The Contribution of Reservoirs to Global Land Surface Water Storage Variations* Academic Article uri icon


  • © 2016 American Meteorological Society. Man-made reservoirs play a key role in the terrestrial water system. They alter water fluxes at the land surface and impact surface water storage throughwater management regulations for diverse purposes such as irrigation, municipal water supply, hydropower generation, and flood control. Although most developed countries have established sophisticated observing systems for many variables in the land surface water cycle, long-term and consistent records of reservoir storage are much more limited and not always shared. Furthermore, most land surface hydrologicalmodels do not represent the effects of water management activities.Here, the contribution of reservoirs to seasonal water storage variations is investigated using a large-scale watermanagementmodel to simulate the effects of reservoir management at basin and continental scales. The model was run from 1948 to 2010 at a spatial resolution of 0.25° latitude-longitude.Atotal of 166 of the largest reservoirs in the world with a total capacity of about 3900km 3 (nearly 60%of the globally integrated reservoir capacity) were simulated. The global reservoir storage time series reflects the massive expansion of global reservoir capacity; over 30 000 reservoirs have been constructed during the past half century, with a mean absolute interannual storage variation of 89 km 3 . The results indicate that the average reservoir-induced seasonal storage variation is nearly 700 km 3 or about 10%of the global reservoir storage. For some river basins, such as the Yellow River, seasonal reservoir storage variations can be as large as 72%of combined snowwater equivalent and soilmoisture storage.

altmetric score

  • 1.35

author list (cited authors)

  • Zhou, T., Nijssen, B., Gao, H., & Lettenmaier, D. P.

citation count

  • 66

complete list of authors

  • Zhou, Tian||Nijssen, Bart||Gao, Huilin||Lettenmaier, Dennis P

publication date

  • January 2016