Thursday, October 30, 2014

NASA Scientist Raises Alarm on Global Groundwater Decline

Storage declines in major aquifers chart (Credit: Jay Famiglietti) Click to enlarge.
Groundwater supplies beneath the world's driest regions -- where water is needed most -- are approaching the point of crisis, warns a commentary piece published yesterday in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.

Penned by James Famiglietti, a top water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., the commentary includes new satellite data confirming that the amount of water stored in seven of the world's major aquifers -- including California's Central Valley -- declined markedly since the early 2000s.

It is not the first time scientists have raised alarm about global overdependence on groundwater, but Famiglietti said in an interview that little is being done to improve the situation, even as climate change appears set to exacerbate water shortages.

"Those aquifers are in the dry parts of the world -- that's why we rely on them," Famiglietti said.  "Because of climate change, those dry areas of the world are getting drier, so there will be less replenishment of an already limited resource."

A chart published with Famiglietti's piece documents a steady decline in California's Central Valley aquifer, the southern portion of the High Plains Aquifer in the U.S. Midwest, the North China Plains aquifer, an aquifer in northwestern India, an aquifer in the northern Middle East, Australia's Canning Basin and the Guarani aquifer in central South America.

Many of these areas are grappling with drought.  Northern China is in the midst of its worst drought in 60 years.  Armed bandits are exploiting dry conditions in northern India, instituting an illegal "water tax" on small villages.

And in California, farmers and municipalities today are facing unprecedented water cutbacks.  In September, California passed legislation that will, for the first time, manage groundwater on a statewide basis.

Famiglietti called this move a step in the right direction but said far more needs to be done around the world before the problem is solved.

"It's worse than people realize in part because declining groundwater reserves don't normally get included in assessments of drought," he said.

Read More at NASA Scientist Raises Alarm on Global Groundwater Decline

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