Environment

New study maps Earth's hidden groundwater for the first time

New study maps Earth's hidden ...
A new study estimates a total volume of almost 23 million cubic kilometers of total groundwater
A new study estimates a total volume of almost 23 million cubic kilometers of total groundwater
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A new study estimates a total volume of almost 23 million cubic kilometers of total groundwater
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A new study estimates a total volume of almost 23 million cubic kilometers of total groundwater
The research sheds light on how sustainable the rate at which humanity is consuming modern groundwater is
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The research sheds light on how sustainable the rate at which humanity is consuming modern groundwater is

A new study has, for the first time, estimated the total volume ofgroundwater present on the Earth. The results show that we're usingup the water supply quicker than it can be naturally replaced, whilefuture research will seek to determine exactly how long it will be until moderngroundwater runs dry.

Groundwater is an extremely preciousresource, being a key source of sustenance for humanity and the ecosystems we inhabit. It resides beneath the Earth's surface, ranges frommillions of years to just months old, and exists in huge quantities –quite literally millions of cubic kilometers. While calculations backin the 1970s roughly estimated the global volume of groundwater, this newstudy represents the first detailed calculation of the exactquantity, and it could have big implications.

Researchers from the University of Victoria, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Calgary and the University of Göttingen created a map ofgroundwater distribution by carefully analyzing numerous datasets, and making use of more than40,000 scientific models. In all, the study estimates a total volumeof almost 23 million cubic kilometers (5.5 million cubic miles) of groundwater.

Two kinds of groundwater were detailed– old and modern. Old groundwater is located deep in the Earth, issalty and often contains uranium or arsenic. In contrast, moderngroundwater is closer to the surface, and moves more quickly.Unfortunately, it's also far more susceptible to climate change thanthe deeper, ancient water.

The research sheds light on how sustainable the rate at which humanity is consuming modern groundwater is
The research sheds light on how sustainable the rate at which humanity is consuming modern groundwater is

The map shows the majorityof the modern supply to be located in mountainous and tropicalregions, such as the Amazon Basin, the Congo and the Rockies.Unsurprisingly, very little groundwater was detected in arid regions like the Sahara desert and Central Australia, which is something that has long been suspected.

"Intuitively, we expect drier areasto have less young groundwater and more humid areas to have more, butbefore this study, all we had was intuition," said team member Dr Kevin Befus. "Now, we have aquantitative estimate that we compared to geochemical observations."

Of the calculated 23 million km3 ofgroundwater, 350,000 km3 (84,000 mi3) of it is less than 50years old. Futhermore, the study found that less than six percent ofthe groundwater located up to two kilometers (1.2 mi) deep in the earth isrenewable within a single human lifetime. In essence, we're using upgroundwater far quicker than it can be replaced.

Moving forward, the team plans tofurther analyze the data with the goal of furthering ourunderstanding of exactly how quickly the modern and old groundwateris being depleted by human activity. Once those calculations arecomplete, we'll have a strong idea of exactly how long we have before the supplyruns out.

In the meantime, the researchersbelieve that the results of the study will help inform variousstudies and individuals, from policy developers and water managers toscientists focusing on geochemistry, oceanography and more.

The researchers published the findingsin the journal Nature Geoscience.

Source: University of Victoria

A new study has, for the first time, estimated the total volume ofgroundwater present on the Earth. The results show that we're usingup the water supply quicker than it can be naturally replaced, whilefuture research will seek to determine exactly how long it will be until moderngroundwater runs dry.

Groundwater is an extremely preciousresource, being a key source of sustenance for humanity and the ecosystems we inhabit. It resides beneath the Earth's surface, ranges frommillions of years to just months old, and exists in huge quantities –quite literally millions of cubic kilometers. While calculations backin the 1970s roughly estimated the global volume of groundwater, this newstudy represents the first detailed calculation of the exactquantity, and it could have big implications.

Researchers from the University of Victoria, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Calgary and the University of Göttingen created a map ofgroundwater distribution by carefully analyzing numerous datasets, and making use of more than40,000 scientific models. In all, the study estimates a total volumeof almost 23 million cubic kilometers (5.5 million cubic miles) of groundwater.

Two kinds of groundwater were detailed– old and modern. Old groundwater is located deep in the Earth, issalty and often contains uranium or arsenic. In contrast, moderngroundwater is closer to the surface, and moves more quickly.Unfortunately, it's also far more susceptible to climate change thanthe deeper, ancient water.

The research sheds light on how sustainable the rate at which humanity is consuming modern groundwater is
The research sheds light on how sustainable the rate at which humanity is consuming modern groundwater is

The map shows the majorityof the modern supply to be located in mountainous and tropicalregions, such as the Amazon Basin, the Congo and the Rockies.Unsurprisingly, very little groundwater was detected in arid regions like the Sahara desert and Central Australia, which is something that has long been suspected.

"Intuitively, we expect drier areasto have less young groundwater and more humid areas to have more, butbefore this study, all we had was intuition," said team member Dr Kevin Befus. "Now, we have aquantitative estimate that we compared to geochemical observations."

Of the calculated 23 million km3 ofgroundwater, 350,000 km3 (84,000 mi3) of it is less than 50years old. Futhermore, the study found that less than six percent ofthe groundwater located up to two kilometers (1.2 mi) deep in the earth isrenewable within a single human lifetime. In essence, we're using upgroundwater far quicker than it can be replaced.

Moving forward, the team plans tofurther analyze the data with the goal of furthering ourunderstanding of exactly how quickly the modern and old groundwateris being depleted by human activity. Once those calculations arecomplete, we'll have a strong idea of exactly how long we have before the supplyruns out.

In the meantime, the researchersbelieve that the results of the study will help inform variousstudies and individuals, from policy developers and water managers toscientists focusing on geochemistry, oceanography and more.

The researchers published the findingsin the journal Nature Geoscience.

Source: University of Victoria

15 comments
Bill Bennett
YAY! Go humans!
SpaceCowboy
Maybe this will help California? Nope... they'll find some rare ground squirrel that is in the way and don't want to harm.
Mel Tisdale
Sometimes it is difficult to have much hope for the human race unless it goes through a major cull. Perhaps we deserve what is coming, Just look at the way we, as a species, have reacted to climate change. We set up a global body of scientists to investigate the phenomenon and then refuse to listen to what they say about it. Preferring instead to listen to propaganda funded by those who are largely to blame for it. Oh hum! If only we could select who survives and who dies, but war is not that democratic, unfortunately.
oldguy
Im interested in where the water is going. My early science classes taught that we cannot destroy matter. Maybe we are just moving our water around the globe as we have always done, but faster?
owlbeyou
This is a very interesting study! They don't mention how long this precious resource will last, but my guess is at least a hundred years, and by then we will have figured out how to efficiently desalinate sea water (and bring it to where its needed). That doesn't mean that we can wash our clothes and flush our toilets with potable water forever and ever! The Earth is a finite resource. What it has is what we got. The crucial air we breathe, water we drink and food we eat, in that order. So if the Earthlings of this world keep consuming the planet at the accelerating pace we are experiencing today, Mother Nature is gonna have to cull the herd to compensate, unless we do it for her by killing each other!
eric@karich.net
The world has managed to hold together for all of these tens of thousands of years with humans "destroying the planet," I am a little skeptical that it is all about to be "depleted" and ruined in a few years unless liberals take charge of things to save us. But I am sure the liberals have plenty of new taxes and regulations ready to "save us." And plenty of new "discoveries" of things we are ruining, and needing their "guidance" to save. Add another to the list. Good thing because so many other "disasters" have been debunked. Although I am sure they will bring back the ozone layer, and acid rain, sometime soon.
Captain Obvious
The water is being pumped out of the ground and it ends up in the ocean or air. This has just been going on at a large scale in the industrial era, not for "thousands of years". Here in the northeast we mostly drink what was recently rain. But we eat almonds, which are made from western groundwater. Both evil liberals and good guys pump that up.
Charles Barnard
eric@karich.net has a couple of points, but fails to understand several major issues. First, merely because we have survived past predictions, is no guarantee of future survival. (Oh, and the ozone layer and acid rain are still very much alive as concerns...media got bored because they are no longer "new.") Second, survival of humans doesn't imply survival of their civilization. The planet is covered in failed civilizations. There is a reason that archeology started with deserts--they are often what is left after a civilization fails. The purpose of warnings of shortages and future problems is to avert them. Merely because they are averted doesn't mean that there was no problem or threat. On the other hand, there does not seem to be any environment on land which has not been significantly altered by humans, for their own purposes. The "virgin" forests and jungles of the Americas are nothing of the sort, having been extensively modified by precolumbian cultures to suit their needs. And they were not exempt from ecological errors. What differed was that they were, in most cases, attempting to adapt their environment to suit them in ways which were sustainable for long periods of time. This is very different from our current "extract and run" resource extraction methods, and from our modern farming and urban sprawl. The current biggest waste of potable water is Greenland--an unimaginably large ice cube owned by the Danes for a millenia, which is currently being allowed to run off into the sea, unused. The point about "running out of water" is not that we will run out, but that our current methods of obtaining it, our wasteful use of it (to flush bodily wastes!) and increasing rate of use are unsustainable, and at some point will leave us no choice but to change our methods. It is preferable to do so sooner than later. There are currently far too many people who have access only to dangerously undrinkable water. (That puddle in the pothole down the street is many times less dangerous that much drinking water in the world.) This is exacerbated by the acquisition of the rights to water by major corporations and their pricing which makes drinking water (for millenia a human right!) unafordable a majority of the poor. These policies and actions cost the countries involved their vigor and ability to change by keeping the majority of the population ill with disease and parasites (and occasional poisoning.) The planet will of course survive--even baking the entire surface with nuclear weapons will not kill all life. But whether our culture or civilization will survive is far less certain. In 1968 we permitted Richard Nixon, with the passive cooperation of President Johnson and Herbert Hoover, to illegally prolong a war for 5 years, primarily for profit. (Wherupn Nixon's "secret plan to end the war" was revealed: lose.) How legitimate where any of the administrations which follow is unknown, with the exception that Bush & Cheney are known to have arranged for 9/11, the so-called "Patriot Act" and an invasion of Iraq. Guilty of terrorist acts, charged with war crimes and profiteering, they are still at large and retian control of their considerable assets. Corruption in the Congress has reached the point that few capable and ethical persons are willing to run for office, largely because it has become nearly impossible to implement meaningful change from Congress. Those who knowingly crashed the world economy several times in the past fifty years in order to profit, have all escaped any degeree of actual punishment, although their actions have destroyed millions of people's lives for profit. Since the 1970's there have been few if any actual shortages of resources due to natural causes, shortages are created routinely to create profit. Just as economic crashes are created to manipulate prices and create profit. California built the worlds larges desalination plant years ago--then sold it to the Saudi's. Most of the southwest is subject to droughts--historically several have lasted over a century. It is, like the Great Plains, a desert. There are many solutions to the lack of potale water--the technology to purify water is not difficult, expensive or even necessarily energy intensive. But they currently are not in use over the vast portions of humanity which need pure water. Healthy people make for a healthy civilization. The Inka were one of the healthiest peoples ever, a culture which had eliminated hunger, thirst, and exposure. And their farming methods were sustainable with moderate management efforts. By contrest, the USA still has a considerable proportion of people who are hungry without potable water and who lack housing. The empire of the USA has been disintigrating for at least a century, but it will not last much longer as a nation without major change. During WWII we turned the entire country into a machine for war. But as Eisenhower warned when he left office, we made the huge mistake of not disassembling the machine and creating one for peace. Americans in the 1950's-60's didn't understand the hostility of others towards us--this was because the government abroad routinely took actions which would never be permitted at home. By the 1970's our government had begun taking actions at home which were the same nature as those we had been using abroad, and the result was public rioting. The technique used is a variant of the Big Lie, used so effectively by the Nazi regieme (supported by such as GE, A.G.Farben, Ford, and GM--all of whom profited from dealing with the Nazis.) One adminstarion implements unacceptable restrictions on the people, if there is outcry, the next slightly reduces the restrictions. Alternate as needed. More recently you see things like the Terrorist Bush using an executive order to remove all civil and natural rights from those accused as terrorists. Followed by Obama promising to eliminate the measure, but actually extending the order. One early signal that you do not live in a land where all are equal under the law, is that those in charge (in our case Congress,) succumb to the "some animals are better than others," thought, and provide themselves with additional benefits and exemptions from law. We do not allow accused war criminals and those accused of crimes against humanity to be extradited for trial to the World Court. Over 400 Americans in high office are wanted on such charges, including our current and previous presidents. While it is understandable (though perhaps ethically questinable) to not permit extradition, neither do we prosecute such people within our own system--despite the fact that they are accused of actions which are criminal under USA law. These are symptoms of tyranny, and it has been increasingly obvious for decades that our nation is disintegrating in terms of it's ethical base. Things we now take for granted are things we pointed at in the USSR as "corrupt" or "tyrannical." E.g. requiring a passport to depart the country, requiring invasive personal inspections before boarding public transit, shooting "suspects" dead or abusing them in custody without trial of the police involved, the use of torture (which we have known since 1944 is useless as a method of gathering intelligence,) imprisonment without trial and without access to legal counsel.) In a country where possession of weapons is a right, we have police killing suspects becuase they possessed (or might possess) a weapon. Police now routinely shoot suspects not because of a definite threat, but because they might present a threat--shooting premptively is a military action. And even the military usually has orders not to fire until fired upon. Police have become military in their arms and their training. Military training is the direct oppositte of the charge of the police to protect and serve the people (which INCLUDES suspects, becuase their legal status is INNOCENT until a court says they are guilty.) You cannot protect people by killing them. Our large problem is a combination of too large a population and too low an educational level. This is exacerbated by the seemingly common feeling that if everyone is entitled to an opinion, all opinions are equal--nothing is further from the truth. You may have noted that as the country has become more tyrannical and militized, the educational level of the people has been falling. Ignorance and secrecy are the friends of tyranny. Thus education and freedom of information are the enemies of tyranny. So why do the GOP want to reduce funding for education? Why do they want to work on secret trade agreements? Permitting unlimited, untracable money to flow to politicians permits unknown entities (foriegn nationals, governments, etc.) to control local elections. In Wisconsin, most of the GOP funding has come from outside the State. When potable water becomes private property, invividual liberty becomes a memory. Water is life. Beware when pure are is no longer free to all. There will be revolutionary change in the next 12-15 years. Our entire political and economic system, world-wide, will change. (Collapse is not necessarily the correct word, as it implys a major change for the worse, which seems likely not to be the case.) One thing is certain: it will not return to anything similar to what any of us has known in the past--it's a new game, the reality today is not scarcity but abundance. But our culture doesn't grok abundance, too much is based upon individual greed. Thus the culture will change or die.
habakak
The world will be fine. There is an infinite amount of resources available on our planet. By recycling. And recycling becomes more viable when cheap, renewable energy becomes possible. And it will. Maybe not in my life time, but in 50 years we'll be in a drastic better position energy-wise than we are now. We just have to develop the technology to access the unlimited amounts of energy available. It's a technology issue. People always have to fret about stuff they can do nothing about. You can't force the technology (much). 4 years ago we did not have any practical electrical car (less than 200 units the Tesla roadster was produced). Now we have a practical electric sedan (albeit still not mainstream). In 10 years all automobile manufacturers will manufacture some electrical model. In 20 years virtually all cars produced will be electrical. Electric cars (alone) will not save the planet or move us to a sustainable energy model. My point is just that electrical cars were not practical for over 120 years. Now they are becoming practical. Fusion or a quantum leap in our energy access will also happen suddenly once the technology matures. It will happen before we 'run out' of water.
witipete
You cannot make or destroy water. It can be contaminated but even if you split off hydrogen, H2O will always reset to its original volume in on and around the earth. "Not a drop more and not a drop less" other wise earth cannot exist in its present orbit and mass.