Water Underground

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 2:07 PM
Inge E.M. de Graaf, Utrecht University, Department of Physcial Geography, Utrecht, 3584, Netherlands
The world’s largest accessible source of freshwater is hidden underground. However it remains difficult to estimate its volume, and we still cannot answer the question; will there be enough for everybody? In many places of the world groundwater abstraction is unsustainable: more water is used than refilled, leading to decreasing river discharges and declining groundwater levels. It is predicted that for many regions in the world unsustainable water use will increase in the coming decades, due to rising human water use under a changing climate. It would not take long before water shortage causes widespread droughts and the first water war begins.

Improving our knowledge about our hidden water is the first step to prevent such large water conflicts. The world’s largest aquifers are mapped, but these maps do not mention how much water these aquifers contain or how fast water levels decline. If we can add thickness and geohydrological information to these aquifer maps, we can estimate how much water is stored and its flow direction. Also, data on groundwater age and how fast the aquifer is refilled is needed to predict the impact of human water use and climate change on the groundwater resource. Ultimately, if we can provide this knowledge water conflicts will focus more on a fair distribution instead of absolute amounts of water.