According to NASA, water table levels are becoming critically low — worldwide. Two studies, which were conducted by the University of California, Irvine, suggest human consumption has depleted an estimated 33 percent of the world’s largest groundwater basins.
The study, which was published by Water Resource Research, examined groundwater levels of the planet’s largest aquifers. The data was compiled using images captured by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites over a period of ten years between 2003 and 2013.
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As reported by Washington Post, the researchers focused on 37 aquifers, which are the world’s largest. The scientists concluded at least 21 of those aquifers are no longer able to sustain human consumption. Essentially, a majority of the aquifers are unable to replenish the water being removed from the ground.
As reported by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, thirteen of the aquifers have reached a critical state.
Although NASA’s data suggests water table levels have decreased, it is unclear how much water remains in each aquifer. UCI doctoral student Alexandra Richey, who led both studies, explains.
“We don’t actually know how much is stored in each of these aquifers. Estimates of remaining storage might vary from decades to millennia.”
As discussed in the study, groundwater stress estimates were historically based on statistical data. As the statistics only account for existing population and irrigation, the data may be incomplete.
The researchers noted the previous stress estimates do not account for unexpected population growth or climate change. The images captured by NASA suggest water levels are being depleted at much higher rates than previously thought. Richey said the uncertainty is unsettling.
“We’re trying to raise red flags now to pinpoint where active management today could protect future lives and livelihoods… In a water-scarce society, we can no longer tolerate this level of uncertainty, especially since groundwater is disappearing so rapidly.”
As many regions are experiencing devastating drought, humans have become increasingly dependent on groundwater supplies to irrigate crops and for their own personal consumption.
The University of California studies will help scientists identify troubled zones and decrease stress to the groundwater supplies. NASA’s water table images are expected to provide a more accurate estimate of how much damage is actually being done.
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