Multi-decadal assessment of water budget and hydrological extremes in the Tigris-Euphrates Basin using satellites, modeling, and in-situ data

Ashraf Rateb, Bridget R. Scanlon, Chung Yen Kuo

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15 Citations (Scopus)


The transboundary Tigris-Euphrates Basin (TEB) is prone to water-scarcity disputes. Water scarcity is related to aridity, climate extremes, limited supplies, upstream reservoir storage, rising water demand, and population growth. Understanding the water budget and storage changes in the basin in relation to hydrological extremes is fundamental to mitigate the drought and flood impacts and the key to efficient water resources management. This study evaluated the water budget related to drought occurrences in the TEB over four decades (1979–2020) based on GRACE/GRACE-FO, and altimetry satellites data, in situ observations, and hydrological modeling using a Bayesian model averaging (BMA) approach. Results show that severe droughts occurred at about decadal timescales with increasing recovery times. Severe and exceptional droughts dominated from (1998 to 2000, 2007 to 2009). Mild to moderate droughts occurred in 1983–1984, 1989–1992, 2011–2013, and 2018. The most severe drought occurred in 2007–2009, with the largest decline (−80 km3) in GRACE total water storage (TWS). Depletion in TWS was dominated by depletion in reservoir storage. In contrast, groundwater (GW) depletion accounted for only 25–30% of TWS decline. Storage depletion was amplified by human intervention (e.g., irrigation and GW abstraction) by at least 50% during drought. Marked recovery in TWS occurred in 2019 and 2020 (totaling ~144 km3 by July 2020, representing ~2× total depletion between 2007 and 2018) in response to regional flooding. Applying the BMA approach to the estimates of water cycle fluxes improved the accuracy and similarity of storage change, but not variability relative to GRACE. In summary, prolonged droughts are the norm rather than the exception in the TEB over the past four decades. The frequency and severity of droughts have substantial implications for water scarcity for countries sharing the TEB and underscore riparian countries' needs to expand their water management portfolio to mitigate drought impacts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number144337
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Apr 20

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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