Seasonal Water Storage Variations as Impacted by Water Abstractions: Comparing the Output of a Global Hydrological Model with GRACE and GPS Observations

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review


  • Petra Döll - , University Hospital Frankfurt (Author)
  • Mathias Fritsche - , Chair of Geodetic Earth System Research (Author)
  • Annette Eicker - , University of Bonn (Author)
  • Hannes Müller Schmied - , University Hospital Frankfurt (Author)


Better quantification of continental water storage variations is expected to improve our understanding of water flows, including evapotranspiration, runoff and river discharge as well as human water abstractions. For the first time, total water storage (TWS) on the land area of the globe as computed by the global water model WaterGAP (Water Global Assessment and Prognosis) was compared to both gravity recovery and climate experiment (GRACE) and global positioning system (GPS) observations. The GRACE satellites sense the effect of TWS on the dynamic gravity field of the Earth. GPS reference points are displaced due to crustal deformation caused by time-varying TWS. Unfortunately, the worldwide coverage of the GPS tracking network is irregular, while GRACE provides global coverage albeit with low spatial resolution. Detrended TWS time series were analyzed by determining scaling factors for mean annual amplitude (fGRACE) and time series of monthly TWS (fGPS). Both GRACE and GPS indicate that WaterGAP underestimates seasonal variations of TWS on most of the land area of the globe. In addition, seasonal maximum TWS occurs 1 month earlier according to WaterGAP than according to GRACE on most land areas. While WaterGAP TWS is sensitive to the applied climate input data, none of the two data sets result in a clearly better fit to the observations. Due to the low number of GPS sites, GPS observations are less useful for validating global hydrological models than GRACE observations, but they serve to support the validity of GRACE TWS as observational target for hydrological modeling. For unknown reasons, WaterGAP appears to fit better to GPS than to GRACE. Both GPS and GRACE data, however, are rather uncertain due to a number of reasons, in particular in dry regions. It is not possible to benefit from either GPS or GRACE observations to monitor and quantify human water abstractions if only detrended (seasonal) TWS variations are considered. Regarding GRACE, this is mainly caused by the attenuation of the TWS differences between water abstraction variants due to the filtering required for GRACE TWS. Regarding GPS, station density is too low. Only if water abstractions lead to long-term changes in TWS by depletion or restoration of water storage in groundwater or large surface water bodies, GRACE may be used to support the quantification of human water abstractions.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1311-1331
Journal Surveys in geophysics : an international review journal of geophysics and planetary sciences
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2014

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Scopus 84927122973


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