Groundwater Vulnerability in a Megacity Under Climate and Economic Changes: A Coupled Sociohydrological Analysis

Bin Li, Yi Zheng, Giuliano Di Baldassarre, Peng Xu, Saket Pande, Murugesu Sivapalan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Groundwater depletion has become increasingly challenging, and many cities worldwide have adopted drastic policies to relieve water stress due to socioeconomic growth. Located on the declining aquifer of the North China Plain, Beijing, for example, has developed plans to limit the size of the city’s population. However, the effect of population displacement under uncertain macroeconomic and climate change remains ambiguous. We adopt a sociohydrological model, with explicit consideration of the dynamics of human-water interactions, to explore the groundwater vulnerability of Beijing. We investigate how human response might shape the development trajectories of the groundwater-population-economy system under different macroscale economic and climate scenarios. Furthermore, we use a machine learning algorithm to identify the decisive factors to be considered for reducing groundwater vulnerability. Our results show that while rapid external economic development or larger annual average precipitation would enable recovery of the groundwater table in the short term, they may slacken human water shortage awareness and result in more acute groundwater depletion in the long run. Strengthening policymaker perceptions of groundwater depletion would prompt timely response policies for controlling population size. Improving the quantity and quality of labor force input to economic development would avoid downturns in the economy due to labor shortages. The outcomes of this study suggest that these strategies would effectively reduce groundwater vulnerability in the long run without causing severe socioeconomic recession. These findings highlight the importance of endogenizing human behavioral dynamics in sustainable urban water management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2022WR033943
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • climate change
  • groundwater
  • modeling
  • sociohydrology
  • water management
  • water supply

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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