Climatic and anthropogenic factors affecting river discharge to the global ocean, 1951-2000

J. D. Milliman, K. L. Farnsworth, P. D. Jones, K. H. Xu, L. C. Smith

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During the last half of the 20th century, cumulative annual discharge from 137 representative rivers (watershed areas ranging from 0.3 to 6300 × 103 km2) to the global ocean remained constant, although annual discharge from about one-third of these rivers changed by more than 30%. Discharge trends for many rivers reflected mostly changes in precipitation, primarily in response to short- and longer-term atmospheric-oceanic signals; with the notable exception of the Parana, Mississippi, Niger and Cunene rivers, few of these "normal" rivers experienced significant changes in either discharge or precipitation. Cumulative discharge from many mid-latitude rivers, in contrast, decreased by 60%, reflecting in large part impacts due to damming, irrigation and interbasin water transfers. A number of high-latitude and high-altitude rivers experienced increased discharge despite generally declining precipitation. Poorly constrained meteorological and hydrological data do not seem to explain fully these "excess" rivers; changed seasonality in discharge, decreased storage and/or decreased evapotranspiration also may play important roles.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-194
Number of pages8
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008

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