Study Maps Earth's Hidden Groundwater

by | Nov 17, 2015

A figure shows the global distribution of modern groundwater as a depth if it was extracted and pooled at the land surface like a flood. (Credit: Karyn Ho)

A figure shows the global distribution of modern groundwater as a depth if it was extracted and pooled at the land surface like a flood. (Credit: Karyn Ho)

An international group of hydrologists produced the first data-driven estimate of Earth's total supply of groundwater. The study, led by Tom Gleeson of the University of Victoria with co-authors at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Calgary and the University of Göttingen, was published in Nature Geoscience.

The report shows that less than 6 percent of groundwater in the upper two kilometers of Earth's landmass is renewable within a human lifetime.

This has never been known before, said Gleeson. We already know that water levels in lots of aquifers are dropping. We're using our groundwater resources too fast”faster than they're being renewed.

Using multiple datasets (including data from close to 1 million watersheds) and more than 40,000 groundwater models, the study estimates a total volume of nearly 23 million cubic kilometers of total groundwater, of which 0.35 million cubic kilometers is younger than 50 years old.

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