NASA: 4 Billion People at Risk as 'Water Table Dropping All Over the World'
A new analysis reveals that global water scarcity is a far greater problem than previously thought, affecting 4 billion people—two-thirds of the world's population—and will be "one of the most difficult and important challenges of this century."
Previous analyses looked at water scarcity at an annual scale and had found that water scarcity affected between 1.7 and 3.1 billion people. The new study, published Friday in the journal Science Advances, assessed water scarcity on a monthly basis, more fully capturing the specific times of year when it could be an issue.
"Water scarcity has become a global problem affecting us all," study co-author Arjen Hoekstra, a professor of water management at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, said.
The study found that almost half of the 4 billion affected by severe water scarcity for a month or more are in India and China. Millions of others affected live in Bangladesh, Nigeria, Pakistan and Mexico.
The U.S. is far from immune to the problem, with 130 million people affected by water scarcity for at least one month a year, mostly in the states of Texas, California and Florida. And among the rivers the study notes that are fully or nearly depleted before reaching their end is the Colorado River in the West.
There are also half a billion people who face severe water scarcity year round, the analysis found.
"Direct victims of the overconsumption of water resources are the users themselves, who increasingly suffer from water shortages during droughts, resulting in reduced harvests and loss of income for farmers, threatening the livelihoods of whole communities. Businesses depending on water in their operations or supply chain also face increasing risks of water shortages. Other effects include biodiversity losses, low flows hampering navigation, land subsidence and salinization of soils and groundwater resources."
The study concludes that "[m]eeting humanity’s increasing demand for freshwater and protecting ecosystems at the same time ... will be one of the most difficult and important challenges of this century."
The new publication follows a pair of NASA studies led by researchers from the University of California Irvine that showed that the impacts of global warming along with growing demand has caused the world's water supply to drop to dangerous levels.
"The water table is dropping all over the world," Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said at the time. "There's not an infinite supply of water."
"We need to get our heads together on how we manage groundwater," Famiglietti added, "because we’re running out of it."
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They are among the largest trees in the world, descendants of forests where dinosaurs roamed.
Pixabay / Simi Luft<p><span>Until recently, measuring these trees meant scaling their 80 meter high trunks with a tape measure. Now, a team of scientists from University College London and the University of Maryland uses advanced laser scanning, to create 3D maps and calculate the total mass.</span></p><p>The results are striking: suggesting the trees <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">may be as much as 30% larger than earlier measurements suggested.</a> Part of that could be due to the additional trunks the Redwoods can grow as they age, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a process known as reiteration</a>.</p>
New 3D measurements of large redwood trees for biomass and structure. Nature / UCL<p>Measuring the trees more accurately is important because carbon capture will probably play a key role in the battle against climate change. Forest <a href="https://www.wri.org/blog/2020/09/carbon-sequestration-natural-forest-regrowth" target="_blank">growth could absorb billions of tons</a> of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.</p><p>"The importance of big trees is widely-recognised in terms of carbon storage, demographics and impact on their surrounding ecosystems," the authors wrote<a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank"> in the journal Nature</a>. "Unfortunately the importance of big trees is in direct proportion to the difficulty of measuring them."</p><p>Redwoods are so long lived because of their ability to <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cope with climate change, resist disease and even survive fire damage</a>, the scientists say. Almost a fifth of their volume may be bark, which helps protect them.</p>
Carbon Capture Champions<p><span>Earlier research by scientists at Humboldt University and the University of Washington found that </span><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112716302584" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Redwood forests store almost 2,600 tonnes of carbon per hectare</a><span>, their bark alone containing more carbon than any other neighboring species.</span></p><p>While the importance of trees in fighting climate change is widely accepted, not all species enjoy the same protection as California's coastal Redwoods. In 2019 the world lost the equivalent of <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30 soccer fields of forest cover every minute</a>, due to agricultural expansion, logging and fires, according to The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).</p>
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