Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

NASA: More Than One-Third of Earth's Largest Aquifers Are Being Rapidly Depleted

Climate

Think the water situation is bad in California? Freshwater is depleting at alarming and unsustainable rates in major underground aquifers around the globe, according to NASA satellite images.

Researchers from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) used data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites and discovered that one third of the Earth's largest groundwater basins are rapidly depleting due to human consumption, and will only get worse with the changing climate. The research was published in two complimentary studies in the Water Resources Research journal.

These aquifers are a crucial source of fresh water for 35 percent of the human population. That's more than 2 billion people.

What's most alarming, according to one of the studies, is how there's insufficient accurate information on how much water remains in the basins, which means "significant segments of Earth’s population are consuming groundwater quickly without knowing when it might run out," the researchers concluded in a news release.

"Available physical and chemical measurements are simply insufficient," UCI professor and principal investigator Jay Famiglietti, who is also the senior water scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California said in the release. "Given how quickly we are consuming the world’s groundwater reserves, we need a coordinated global effort to determine how much is left."

The world's driest areas contain the most overburdened aquifers. The Arabian Aquifer System, the Indus Basin aquifer of northwestern India and Pakistan, and the Murzuk-Djado Basin in northern Africa are the top three most overstressed aquifers in the world.

In the U.S., California's Central Valley Aquifer—which is being sucked up for agricultural uses—is the most troubled aquifer in the country. While it is fairing slightly better than the aforementioned aquifers, the researchers still consider it "highly stressed." The water-pinched Golden State is wringing its groundwater more than ever due to the historic and ongoing drought.

"As we’re seeing in California right now, we rely much more heavily on groundwater during drought," said Famiglietti. "When examining the sustainability of a region’s water resources, we absolutely must account for that dependence."

Washington Post reporter Todd C. Frankel noted from one of the studies that 21 of the 37 largest aquifers in the world, "have passed their sustainability tipping points," meaning that more water is being used than replenished.

"Aquifers can take thousands of years to fill up and only slowly recharge with water from snowmelt and rains," Frankel wrote. "Now, as drilling for water has taken off across the globe, the hidden water reservoirs are being stressed."

Here's the takeaway: The world's water woes will only get worse as dependence on underground water increases. Climate change and population growth will only exacerbate the problem, researchers pointed out.

"What happens when a highly stressed aquifer is located in a region with socioeconomic or political tensions that can’t supplement declining water supplies fast enough?" said Alexandra Richey, the lead author on both studies, in the news release. "We’re trying to raise red flags now to pinpoint where active management today could protect future lives and livelihoods."

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Drought-Stricken California Orders Largest Recorded Water Cuts for Farmers

Lake Mead About to Hit a Critical New Low as 15-Year Drought Continues in Southwest

7 Epic Droughts Devastating the Planet

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Marco Bottigelli / Moment / Getty Images

By James Shulmeister

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz

Read More Show Less
Luxy Images / Getty Images

By Jo Harper

Investment in U.S. offshore wind projects are set to hit $78 billion (€69 billion) this decade, in contrast with an estimated $82 billion for U.S. offshore oil and gasoline projects, Wood Mackenzie data shows. This would be a remarkable feat only four years after the first offshore wind plant — the 30 megawatt (MW) Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island — started operating in U.S. waters.

Read More Show Less
Giacomo Berardi / Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed both the strengths and limitations of globalization. The crisis has made people aware of how industrialized food production can be, and just how far food can travel to get to the local supermarket. There are many benefits to this system, including low prices for consumers and larger, even global, markets for producers. But there are also costs — to the environment, workers, small farmers and to a region or individual nation's food security.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Joe Leech

The human body comprises around 60% water.

It's commonly recommended that you drink eight 8-ounce (237-mL) glasses of water per day (the 8×8 rule).

Read More Show Less

By Michael Svoboda

The enduring pandemic will make conventional forms of travel difficult if not impossible this summer. As a result, many will consider virtual alternatives for their vacations, including one of the oldest forms of virtual reality – books.

Read More Show Less
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility on Thursday accused NOAA of ignoring its own scientists' findings about the endangerment of the North Atlantic right whale. Lauren Packard / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Julia Conley

As the North Atlantic right whale was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of critically endangered species Thursday, environmental protection groups accusing the U.S. government of bowing to fishing and fossil fuel industry pressure to downplay the threat and failing to enact common-sense restrictions to protect the animals.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Pexels

By Beth Ann Mayer

Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.

Read More Show Less