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Study: major aquifers past sustainability tipping points



Human activities are “rapidly draining” some of the world’s largest groundwater aquifers, which millions of people rely on, according to a new study from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and NASA.

The study, which has been published in Water Resources Research, warns that 21 of the world’s 37 largest aquifers are now past their sustainability tipping point, meaning more water was removed than replaced during the ten year study period. Eight of the aquifers were labelled as ‘highly stressed’, meaning there is no water filling them back up.

The issue isn’t confided to a particular region with both developing countries, such as India, and developed nations, from the US to France, being affected.

Despite the importance of water and the rapid consumption of the resource, the researchers note that there is no accurate data about how much water remains in the largest groundwater basins. A companion paper published in the same journal suggests that the remaining volume of the world’s useable groundwater is likely to be far less than estimates made decades ago.

Jay Famiglietti, UCI professor and principal investigator, said, “Available physical and chemical measurements are simply insufficient. Given how quickly we are consuming the world’s groundwater reserves, we need a coordinated global effort to determine how much is left.”

The problem is expected to intensify due to climate change and population growth, making it even more important that the issue is addressed and managed.

“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?” Alexandra Richey, who conducted the research, explained.

“We’re trying to raise red flags now to pinpoint where active management today could protect future lives and livelihoods.”

The researchers also note that droughts need to be taken into account as regions rely more heavily on groundwater during these periods, as currently seen in California, and this can impact on the sustainability of a region’s water resources.

Photo: Christoph Schnabel via Freeimages

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Further reading:

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Climate change puts more people at risk of water scarcity

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