Global water cycle shifts far beyond pre-industrial conditions – planetary boundary for freshwater change transgressed

This is a Preprint and has not been peer reviewed. The published version of this Preprint is available: This is version 3 of this Preprint.

Add a Comment

You must log in to post a comment.


There are no comments or no comments have been made public for this article.


Download Preprint


Miina Porkka , Vili Virkki, Lan Wang-Erlandsson, Dieter Gerten, Tom Gleeson, Chinchu Mohan, Ingo Fetzer, Fernando Jaramillo, Arie Staal, Sofie te Wierik, Arne Tobian, Ruud van der Ent, Petra Döll, Martina Flörke, Simon Gosling, Naota Hanasaki, Yusuke Satoh, Hannes Müller Schmied, Niko Wanders , Johan Rockstrom, Matti Kummu


Human actions compromise the many life-supporting functions provided by the freshwater cycle. Yet, scientific understanding of anthropogenic freshwater change and its long-term evolution is limited. Using a multi-model ensemble of global hydrological models, we estimate how, over a 145-year industrial period, streamflow and soil moisture have deviated from pre-industrial baseline conditions (defined by 5th–95th percentiles, at 0.5° grid level and monthly time step). We find increased frequency of local deviations on ~45% of land area, mainly in regions under heavy direct or indirect human pressures. To estimate humanity’s aggregate impact on the freshwater cycle, we present the evolution of deviation occurrence at regional to global scales. Currently, local streamflow and soil moisture deviations occur on 18.2% and 15.8% of global land area, respectively, which is 8.0 and 4.7 percentage points beyond the ~3 percentage point wide pre-industrial variability envelope. Finally, we discuss applying our approach to define a planetary boundary for freshwater change. Our results indicate a substantial shift from stable pre-industrial streamflow and soil moisture conditions to persistently increasing change and a transgression of the freshwater change planetary boundary, calling for urgent actions to reduce human disturbance of the freshwater cycle.






Published: 2022-07-07 14:07

Last Updated: 2024-03-04 21:51

Older Versions

CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

Additional Metadata

Data Availability (Reason not available):
All data used in this study are gathered from openly available sources, which are appropriately cited in Materials and Methods. The code used in producing the results shown in this study will be deposited in a public database and released upon publication.