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NASA Satellites Show Disturbing Trends in Water Supply



NASA launched a satellite mission in 2002 that has been transmitting data to us over a decade now. The mission is called GRACE, which stands for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, and it measures the amount of water held underground in aquifers.

Aquifers are underground layers of water-bearing permeable rock from which groundwater can be extracted with water wells. About 30% of all of the world’s freshwater resources are located in aquifers.

Data from NASA’s program was revealed in a recent study, which concluded that 21 of the 37 largest aquifers (57%) are running out too fast to be replenished. Even more concerning: an additional 13 are declining at a rate that puts them in a category NASA calls the “most troubled”.

This is putting us closer to peak water territory.

In the below map, red shades show negative changes in the water supply in the world’s biggest aquifers.

Trends in Groundwater Storage, 2003-2013

NASA Satellite Photos Showing Aquifer Depletion

The biggest water sources exert strong gravitational pulls on the satellites, and NASA can use this data to spot trends in water supply while monitoring the world’s largest sources of groundwater.

The below map shows the type of stress exhibited on each water source. Overstressed aquifers do not experience any replenishment, while variable stress means that an aquifer is in decline but still experiences some sort of replenishment. Lastly, human-dominated stress means that aquifer levels will not increase unless humans help recharge the wells through irrigation or other methods.

Changes in Storage vs. Aquifer Stress

NASA Satellite Photos Showing Aquifer Depletion

Keep in mind that these are all of the world’s best aquifers, and that changes in smaller groundwater sources are not well reflected in the study. In the United States, it is expected that 40 of 50 states have at least one region that will see some kind of a water shortage in the next 10 years.

Domestic water use in the United States

California, which is struck by a historical drought, currently relies on 60% of its water from aquifers. For more information on the water challenges faced in the United States, don’t forget to take a look at America’s Water Crisis.

Source: Circle of Blue, Business Insider

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Visualizing All of the World’s Water

See all of the world’s water in one chart, as well as which regions will suffer the greatest from water scarcity.





The following content is sponsored by Hinrich Foundation, taken from the new report Visualizing Asia’s Water Dilemma.

The Scarcity of Freshwater

Water is an essential component of life, enabling everything from food production to electricity generation. Given its ubiquity, it’s surprising to see how scarce water actually is.

For example, lakes and rivers supply the majority of our freshwater, yet they represent just 0.01% of the Earth’s total water resources.

This graphic from Hinrich Foundation introduces their latest free report, Visualizing Asia’s Water Dilemma, produced in partnership with Visual Capitalist.

This data-driven report provides a global overview of water scarcity, as well as a deep dive into the related geopolitical conflicts brewing throughout Asia.

The Total Volume of Water on Earth

The first visualization in this graphic breaks down all of the world’s water, based on estimates from the U.S. Geological Survey.

ResourceVolume (cubic kilometers)Percent of total water
Ice caps & glaciers24,064,0001.74
Lakes and rivers178,5200.01

When you consider the amount of water needed to produce everyday products, this isn’t very much at all. A smartphone, for example, has a water footprint of over 12,000 liters due to the pollutants from production that must be diluted.

To see a visual breakdown of the water footprint of everyday products, download the free report.

Asia Has the Most People Living Under Water Stress

The second visualization in this graphic outlines the UN’s forecasts for the number of people living under water stress by region, in 2000 and 2050.

Asia will lead by a very wide margin due to its geographic landscape, high population, and dense centers of economic activity.

Water: Asia’s Next Geopolitical Flashpoint?

Asia is home to a complex network of rivers that originate in the Tibetan Plateau, located within China’s borders. From there, these rivers deliver water to many of the world’s most populous countries, including India, Pakistan, and Vietnam.

This geographic reality, combined with unregulated dam building along major rivers, is leading to a growing number of disputes among neighboring countries.

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For more analysis and infographics, download the free report Visualizing Asia’s Water Dilemma

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Visualizing Asia's Water Dilemma


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