A 14-year NASA mission has confirmed that a massive redistribution of freshwater is occurring across the Earth, and humans are the driving force behind the moves, according to the new study.
“The human fingerprint is all over changing freshwater availability. We see it in large-scale overuse of groundwater. We see it as a driver of climate change,” said Jay Famiglietti, a co-author of the research who is the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “The study shows that humans have really drastically altered the global water landscape in a very profound way.”
The results could have profound consequences if they continue, pointing to a situation in which some highly populous regions could struggle to find enough water in the future.
Researchers tracked global trends in freshwater in 34 regions around the world using 14 years of observations from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) spacecraft mission. Theys combined this information with satellite precipitation data, irrigation maps and published reports of human activities related to agriculture, mining and reservoir operations.
Freshwater is found in lakes, rivers, soil, snow, groundwater and ice. Freshwater is one of the most essential of Earth’s resources, for drinking water and agriculture. 40 percent of 34 hotspots studied around the world can be linked to human water management activities, such as excessive groundwater pumping for farming. This includes areas including northern India, the North China Plain and parts of Saudi Arabia.
“What we are witnessing is major hydrologic change,” said Famiglietti.
The study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.