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Journal Articles Proceedings of the Royal Society A Year : 2020

Earth's water reservoirs in a changing climate

Graeme L. Stephens
  • Function : Author
Julia M. Slingo
  • Function : Author
Eric Rignot
John T. Reager
  • Function : Author
Maria Z. Hakuba
  • Function : Author
Paul J. Durack
  • Function : Author
John Worden
  • Function : Author


Progress towards achieving a quantitative understanding of the exchanges of water between Earth's main water reservoirs is reviewed with emphasis on advances accrued from the latest advances in Earth Observation from space. These exchanges of water between the reservoirs are a result of processes that are at the core of important physical Earth-system feedbacks, which fundamentally control the response of Earth's climate to the greenhouse gas forcing it is now experiencing, and are therefore vital to understanding the future evolution of Earth's climate. The changing nature of global mean sea level (GMSL) is the context for discussion of these exchanges. Different sources of satellite observations that are used to quantify ice mass loss and water storage over continents, how water can be tracked to its source using water isotope information and how the waters in different reservoirs influence the fluxes of water between reservoirs are described. The profound influence of Earth's hydrological cycle, including human influences on it, on the rate of GMSL rise is emphasized. The many intricate ways water cycle processes influence water exchanges between reservoirs and thus sea-level rise, including disproportionate influences by the tiniest water reservoirs, are emphasized.

Dates and versions

insu-03671094 , version 1 (18-05-2022)



Graeme L. Stephens, Julia M. Slingo, Eric Rignot, John T. Reager, Maria Z. Hakuba, et al.. Earth's water reservoirs in a changing climate. Proceedings of the Royal Society A, 2020, 476, ⟨10.1098/rspa.2019.0458⟩. ⟨insu-03671094⟩
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