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Research. Groundwater is decreasing around the world. However, there are ways to reverse this

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Groundwater levels are decreasing all over the world – these are the conclusions reached by American scientists who examined almost 1.7 thousand underground aquifers. However, all is not lost yet.

As scientists from the University of California, Santa Barbara (USA) warn in the “Nature” magazine, the level of groundwater around the world is decreasing, often at an increasing rate.

– We conducted this study out of curiosity. We wanted to better understand the state of global groundwater resources by comparing the results of millions of measurements – said prof. Debra Perrone, lead author of the publication.

The researcher and her team compiled data from various countries. They included as many as 300 million measurements taken in 1.5 million wells over the past 100 years. At the same time, 1,200 scientific publications were analyzed to determine the course of the aquifers included. Water loss is common – it affects 71 percent of the layers examined. This is three times more than would result from pure probability. What’s worse, this decline is accelerating in many places, and this trend began around 2000. The problem, as one might expect, especially concerns dry and semi-arid regions where crops are grown.

– This is an intuitive result – said one of the authors, prof. Scott Jasechko. – However, intuitive assumptions are one thing, showing that this is really happening is something completely different – he emphasized.

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How to save waterPAP

However, this can be reversed

However, the study also indicated places where the water level is stable or even increasing. In 16 percent of aquifers, declines that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s have reversed.

– With concentrated efforts, people can reverse harmful processes – emphasized Prof. Jasechko.

As an example, scientists cite the city of Tucson, Arizona. Water from the Colorado River is used to rebuild the aquifer near Avra ​​Valley.

– Groundwater is often perceived as a reserve for the future. Deliberately filling these tanks allows us to store water for when it is particularly needed, Jasechko noted.

As experts point out, surface infrastructure for storing water is expensive, while – with appropriate geological conditions – large supplies can be stored underground, which is not only cheaper, but also less disruptive to the balance in the environment and poses fewer threats. The cost of storing water underground can be up to six times cheaper than on the surface. On the other hand, this approach also has its price – for example, the Colorado River rarely reaches its former delta anymore. As scientists remind us, another solution is to reduce the demand for water. This can be achieved, for example, with the help of appropriate legal regulations and fees.

Climate change and its consequences in the world PAP/Adam Ziemienowicz, Maciej Zieliński

Continuation of the project

The authors of the study also expressed their appreciation for the GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) project, in which the condition of underground water deposits can be determined with the help of two satellites that respond to minor changes in gravity.

Much remains to be explored, as groundwater trends do not tell the whole story. Extraction of underground water may, for example, weaken local streams and reservoirs. Scientists also checked rainfall in different parts of the world. As it turned out, in as many as 90 percent of cases, the depletion of underground reservoirs had accelerated because rainfall levels had decreased over the last 40 years.

The latest study is partly a complement to the same team’s 2021 project described in Science. It included a global analysis of the world’s groundwater wells.

– Together, these studies allow us to understand which wells have already dried up or are most likely to dry up if the decline in groundwater levels continues – said Prof. Jasechko. Now he and his team are examining the link between fluctuations in underground water reservoirs and climate change. – Depletion of underground sources is not inevitable – emphasized the expert.

PAP, University of California, Santa Barbara

Main photo source: Creatureart Images/Shutterstock



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