Why hydrology matters to climate science

Hydrology is indispensable for climate scientists because it provides insights into the intricate interactions between the water cycle and the Earth’s climate system. By studying hydrological processes, researchers can improve climate models, predict and mitigate the impacts of climate change, and promote sustainable water management practices.

Hydrology is crucial for climate scientists because it plays a significant role in the Earth’s climate system.

Firstly, Hydrology is the study of the movement, distribution, and quality of water on Earth. On the other hand, Climate science is an interdisciplinary field of study that focuses on understanding the Earth’s climate system and how it changes over time. Also, it encompasses various scientific disciplines, including atmospheric science, oceanography, hydrology, geology, ecology, and more. Climate scientists examine the interactions between the atmosphere, oceans, land surfaces, ice, and living organisms to unravel the complex processes driving climate patterns and variability.

In this article, BWI delves into some insights into how hydrology intersects with climate science. 

  1. Water Cycle: The water cycle is a key component of the Earth’s climate system. Changes in temperature, precipitation, and evaporation rates directly influence hydrological processes, such as runoff, infiltration, and groundwater recharge. For instance, research by Schewe et al. (2014) has shown that global warming is likely to intensify the water cycle, leading to more extreme precipitation events and changes in regional water availability. Thus, water cycle is invariably linked with climate science.
  2. Feedback Mechanisms: Hydrological feedbacks play a critical role in climate change dynamics. For example, studies have demonstrated that the melting of polar ice caps and glaciers contributes to sea-level rise, altering ocean circulation patterns and influencing regional climate systems (Serreze et al., 2007). Additionally, increased evapotranspiration from land surfaces can modulate atmospheric humidity levels, affecting cloud formation and precipitation patterns (Dirmeyer et al., 2006).
  3. Climate Modeling: Hydrological data is essential for improving the accuracy of climate models. Moreover, studies like those by Seneviratne et al. (2010) have highlighted the importance of incorporating land-atmosphere interactions, soil moisture dynamics, and surface water processes into climate simulations. Hence, by integrating hydrological components into models, scientists can better predict the impacts of climate change on water resources, ecosystems, and agricultural productivity.
  4. Extreme Events: Hydrology is critical for understanding and mitigating the risks associated with extreme weather events. For example, research by Kundzewicz et al. (2013) has documented an increase in the frequency and severity of floods worldwide, attributing these changes to climate variability and human-induced factors. Similarly, studies by Dai (2013) have linked climate change to more frequent and intense droughts in certain regions, posing significant challenges for water management and food security. Hence, hydrology has a major role in building resilience to extreme climatic events. 
  5. Water Resources Management: Climate variability and change pose complex challenges for water resources management. Research by Milly et al. (2005) has highlighted the uncertainties associated with future water availability, driven by factors such as population growth, land use changes, and climate variability. In order to counter this, effective water management strategies require integrated approaches that consider climate projections, hydrological modeling, and stakeholder engagement to ensure resilience and sustainability. Thus, we can observe how intricately hydrological concepts are linked with climate science. 

All in all, these examples illustrate the multifaceted relationship between hydrology and climate science. Moreover, they underscore the importance of interdisciplinary research and collaboration in addressing global water challenges in a changing climate. 


  • Dai, A. (2013). Increasing drought under global warming in observations and models. Nature Climate Change, 3(1), 52-58.
  • Dirmeyer, P. A., Gao, X., Zhao, M., Guo, Z., Oki, T., & Hanasaki, N. (2006). GSWP-2: Multimodel analysis and implications for our perception of the land surface. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 87(10), 1381-1397.
  • Kundzewicz, Z. W., Kanae, S., Seneviratne, S. I., Handmer, J., Nicholls, N., Peduzzi, P., … & Mechler, R. (2013). Flood risk and climate change: global and regional perspectives. Hydrological Sciences Journal, 59(1), 1-28.
  • Milly, P. C., Betancourt, J., Falkenmark, M., Hirsch, R. M., Kundzewicz, Z. W., Lettenmaier, D. P., … & Stouffer, R. J. (2005). Stationarity is dead: Whither water management?. Science, 319(5863), 573-574.
  • Schewe, J., Heinke, J., Gerten, D., Haddeland, I., Arnell, N. W., Clark, D. B., … & Eisner, S. (2014). Multimodel assessment of water scarcity under climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(9), 3245-3250.
  • Seneviratne, S. I., Corti, T., Davin, E. L., Hirschi, M., Jaeger, E. B., Lehner, I., … & Teuling, A. J. (2010). Investigating soil moisture–climate interactions in a changing climate: A review. Earth-Science Reviews, 99(3-4), 125-161.
  • Serreze, M. C., Holland, M. M., & Stroeve, J. (2007). Perspectives on the Arctic’s shrinking sea-ice cover. Science, 315(5818), 1533-1536.

In addition, these references should provide further insights into the intricate connections between hydrology and climate science.