Total water storage dynamics in response to climate variability and extremes: Inference from long-term terrestrial gravity measurement

Benjamin Creutzfeldt, Ty Ferré, Peter Troch, Bruno Merz, Hartmut Wziontek, Andreas Güntner

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46 Scopus citations


Terrestrial water storage is a basic element of the hydrological cycle and a key state variable for land surface-atmosphere interaction. However, measuring water storage in a comprehensive way for different storage compartments and beyond the point scale is a challenge. In this study, we explore a 10-year time series of total water storage changes derived from high-precision superconducting gravimeter observations in a headwater catchment in Southern Germany. In combination with hydro-meteorological data, we examine the relationship between gravity-derived water storage changes, climate, and river discharge. Distinct seasonal water storage dynamics observed by the gravimeter are strongly related to the meteorological forcing, in particular evapotranspiration. Intra-annual water storage variations demonstrate that the simplifying assumption of water storage averaging to zero at the annual scale is not valid for this catchment. At the event-scale, gravimeters provide a measure of the available subsurface water storage capacity, which can be useful for runoff prediction. During the Central European drought in 2003, the gravimeter data show a strong depletion of water storage and a long-term recovery that extended over a period of several years. In comparison to point measurements or different environmental indices, our findings suggest that depth-integrated gravimeter measurements give a more complete picture of the dynamics of a hydrologic system in response to climate variability and extremes. In view of the considerable costs of gravimeters concerning the infrastructure and measurements, we suggest the strategic deployment of gravimeters at selected sites of hydro-meteorological monitoring networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberD08112
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Materials Chemistry
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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