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NASA Study of Increasingly Dire Global Water Shortages Finds 'Clear Human Fingerprints'

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The Aral Sea, seen in a NASA satellite image, in 2000 on the left versus 2017 on the right. Modis / Terra / NASA

By Julia Conley

With a first-of-its-kind satellite study, NASA scientists have identified more than 30 parts of the globe where the depletion of freshwater has been most dramatic, largely due to human activity and the climate crisis.

Parts of India, the Middle East, Australia, the Arctic, Antarctica, and California were among the places pointed out in the new study, published in Nature on Wednesday, as areas where an overuse of groundwater resources from irrigation, agricultural, and industry projects, as well as the loss of glaciers and ice sheets, have led to water shortages.


NASA has identified more than 30 hotspots where freshwater is in particular danger.

The findings showed a "clear human fingerprint" on the drying out of the earth, the authors of the report told the Guardian.

Aside from the warming planet's effect on rapidly melting polar ice, the extraction of water from rivers like those that feed into the Aral Sea in Central Asia, for the purposes of farming and industrial use, have resulted in dramatic losses of freshwater.

Over-extraction has been especially problematic in parts of India and China, according to the study, causing a rapid decline in the availability of water despite normal rainfall levels.

"The fact that extractions already exceed recharge during normal precipitation does not bode well for the availability of groundwater during future droughts," wrote the study's authors.

"This report is a warning and an insight into a future threat," Jonathan Farr of the charity WaterAid told The Guardian. "We need to ensure that investment in water keeps pace with industrialization and farming. Governments need to get to grips with this."

The worst-affected regions were uninhabited parts of the globe like Antarctica where 10 percent of the icy continent's glaciers are now in retreat, according to a study published last month.


Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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Aerial view of Ruropolis, Para state, northen Brazil, on Sept. 6, 2019. Tthe world's biggest rainforest is under threat from wildfires and rampant deforestation. JOHANNES MYBURGH / AFP via Getty Images

By Kate Martyr

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest last month jumped to the highest level since records began in 2015, according to government data.

A total of 563 square kilometers (217.38 square miles) of the world's largest rainforest was destroyed in November, 103% more than in the same month last year, according to Brazil's space research agency.

From January to November this year an area almost the size of the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico was destroyed — an 83% overall increase in destruction when compared with the same period last year.

The figures were released on Friday by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), and collected through the DETER database, which uses satellite images to monitor forest fires, forest destruction and other developments affecting the rainforest.

What's Behind the Rise?

Overall, deforestation in 2019 has jumped 30% compared to last year — 9,762 square kilometers (approximately 3769 square miles) have been destroyed, despite deforestation usually slowing during November and December.

Environmental groups, researchers and activists blamed the policies of Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro for the increase.

They say that Bolosonaro's calls for the Amazon to be developed and his weakening support for Ibama, the government's environmental agency, have led to loggers and ranchers feeling safer and braver in destroying the expansive rainforest.

His government hit back at these claims, pointing out that previous governments also cut budgets to environment agencies such as Ibama.

The report comes as Brazil came to loggerheads with the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) over climate goals during the UN climate conference in Madrid.

AOSIS blasted Brazil, among other nations, for "a lack of ambition that also undermines ours."

Last month, a group of Brazilian lawyers called for Bolsonaro to be investigated by the International Criminal Court over his environmental policies.

Reposted with permission from DW.

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