Satellites Reveal Depletion of a Vital Middle East Water Supply
Andrew C. Revkin
Just in case you needed more reasons to be concerned about the stability of the Middle East, new research using data from NASA’s gravity-sensing Grace satellites shows a substantial decline in the volume of groundwater reserves in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins. Data gathered between 2003 and 2009 show the seasonal recharge of the region’s aquifers (the blue pulses in the illuminating animation above) but then the onset of a potent drought in 2007 followed by a persistent big drop in water amounts, 60 percent of which is ascribed to unsustainable rates of pumping in a study to be published on Friday in the journal Water Resources Research.
[Feb. 23, 9:18 a.m. | Updated | Jay Famiglietti, a study author from the University of California, Irvine, has posted an excellent overview of the work and its context for policy, and noted that he and other authors are doing a “water diplomacy” tour to brief officials in the region.]
Here are some useful excerpts from a joint news release from NASA and the University of California, Irvine:
Scientists at the University of California, Irvine; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., found during a seven-year period beginning in 2003 that parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins lost 117 million acre feet (144 cubic kilometers) of total stored freshwater. That is almost the amount of water in the Dead Sea. The researchers attribute about 60 percent of the loss to pumping of groundwater from underground reservoirs….
“Grace data show an alarming rate of decrease in total water storage in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which currently have the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India,” said Jay Famiglietti, principal investigator of the study and a hydrologist and professor at UC Irvine. “The rate was especially striking after the 2007 drought. Meanwhile, demand for freshwater continues to rise, and the region does not coordinate its water management because of different interpretations of international laws.” [Read the rest.]
On a crowding, turbulent planet, the value of remote-sensing satellites and related programs has never been greater. I hope and trust that President Obama will find room in his State of the Union address tonight not only for jobs, security and environmental progress, but also for sustaining critical investments in such technologies and related science.
To see more evidence of the value of remote sensing, tune in Wednesday night to PBS, which will take a detailed look at various ways satellite and space station imagery are enriching understanding of the home planet in a two-hour Nova special, “Earth from Space.”