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NASA Satellites Show Disturbing Trends in Water Supply

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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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Science

Animated Map: Where to Find Water on Mars

This new planet-wide animated map, based on a decade of space agency research, shows where water can be found on Mars.

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Animation: New Water Map of Mars

The hunt for water on Mars has always been a point of interest for researchers.

Earth has life almost everywhere water exists. Water is an ideal target for finding lifeforms, like microbes, that may exist on other planets.

And if Mars is to become a future home, knowing where water exists will be necessary for our survival.

Both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have special instruments searching for water on the red planet. After 10 years of in-depth investigation, their latest findings suggest a new “water map” for Mars.

Where Did the Water Go?

Many people know Mars as a dry and dusty planet, but it hasn’t always been that way.

Approximately 4.1 to 3.8 billion years ago, Mars had a massive ocean called Oceanus Borealis. It dominated the northern hemisphere of the planet. Specific planetary conditions at that time let water exist on its surface. Changes in temperature, climate, and geology over the years gradually pushed water out to the atmosphere or into the ground.

Up to 99% of this ocean water is trapped within the planet’s crust, locked within special rocks called hydrous minerals.

Hydrous Minerals

Hydrous minerals are essentially rocks that have water (or its two main elements, hydrogen and oxygen), incorporated into their chemical structure.

There are four main classes of hydrous minerals: silicates, sulfates, silicas, and carbonates. While these minerals look pretty similar to the naked eye, their chemical compositions and structural arrangements vary. They are detectable by sophisticated equipment and can tell scientists how water geologically changes over time.

The new water map of Mars actually highlights the location of these hydrous minerals. It is a geological map of the rocks that are holding what remains of Mars’s ancient ocean.

Other Sources of Water on Mars

Despite being a “graveyard” for the bulk of the planet’s ocean, hydrous minerals are not the only source of water on Mars.

Water ice is present at both of Mars’s poles. The northern polar ice cap contains the only visible water on the planet, while the southern pole covers its water with a frozen carbon-dioxide cap.

In 2020, radar analyses suggested the presence of liquid water, potentially part of a network of underground saltwater lakes, close to the southern pole. In 2022, new evidence for this liquid water suggested that the planet may still be geothermally active.

More frozen water may be locked away in the deep subsurface, far below what current surveying equipment is able to inspect.

Mapping Out the Next Missions

The new water map is highlighting areas of interest for future exploration on Mars.

There is a small chance that hydrous minerals may be actively forming near water sources. Finding where they co-exist with known areas of buried frozen water provides possible opportunities for extracting water.

ESA’s Rosalind Franklin Rover will land in Oxia Planum, a region rich in hydrous clays, to investigate how water shaped the region and whether life once began on Mars.

Many more investigations and studies are developing, but for now, scientists are just getting their toes wet as they explore what hydrous minerals can tell us of Mars’s watery past.

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Water

Mapped: Countries With the Highest Flood Risk

Recent floods in Pakistan have affected more than 33 million people. Where is the risk of flooding highest around the world?

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Risk of Flooding Mapped Around the World

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Devastating floods across Pakistan this summer have resulted in more than 1,400 lives lost and one-third of the country being under water.

This raises the question: which nations and their populations are the most vulnerable to the risk of flooding around the world?

Using data from a recent study published in Nature, this graphic maps flood risk around the world, highlighting the 1.81 billion people directly exposed to 1-in-100 year floods. The methodology takes into account potential risks from both inland and coastal flooding.

Asian Countries Most at Risk from Rising Water Levels

Not surprisingly, countries with considerable coastlines, river systems, and flatlands find themselves with high percentages of their population at risk.

The Netherlands and Bangladesh are the only two nations in the world to have more than half of their population at risk due to flooding, at 59% and 58%, respectively. Vietnam (46%), Egypt (41%), and Myanmar (40%) round out the rest of the top five nations.

Besides the Netherlands, only two other European nations are in the top 20 nations by percentage of population at risk, Austria (18th at 29%) and Albania (20th at 28%).

RankCountryFlood risk, by population exposed (%)Total population exposed
#1🇳🇱 Netherlands58.7%10,100,000
#2🇧🇩 Bangladesh57.5%94,424,000
#3🇻🇳 Vietnam46.0%45,504,000
#4🇪🇬 Egypt40.5%38,871,000
#5🇲🇲 Myanmar39.9%19,104,000
#6🇱🇦 Laos39.7%2,985,000
#7🇰🇭 Cambodia38.1%7,431,000
#8🇬🇾 Guyana37.9%276,000
#9🇸🇷 Suriname37.7%233,000
#10🇮🇶 Iraq36.8%16,350,000
#11🇹🇭 Thailand33.9%25,431,000
#12🇸🇸 South Sudan32.5%5,437,000
#13🇵🇰 Pakistan31.1%71,786,000
#14🇳🇵 Nepal29.4%11,993,000
#15🇨🇬 Republic of the Congo29.3%1,170,000
#16🇵🇭 Philippines29.0%30,483,000
#17🇯🇵 Japan28.7%36,060,000
#18🇦🇹 Austria27.8%2,437,000
#19🇮🇳 India27.7%389,816,000
#20🇦🇱 Albania27.6%771,000
#21🇨🇳 China27.5%394,826,000
#22🇹🇩 Chad27.4%4,547,000
#23🇮🇩 Indonesia27.0%75,696,000
#24🇭🇷 Croatia26.9%1,094,000
#25🇸🇰 Slovakia26.7%1,401,000

The Southeast Asia region alone makes up more than two-thirds of the global population exposed to flooding risk at 1.24 billion people.

China and India account for 395 million and 390 million people, respectively, with both nations at the top in terms of the absolute number of people at risk of rising water levels. The rest of the top five countries by total population at risk are Bangladesh (94 million people at risk), Indonesia (76 million people at risk), and Pakistan (72 million people at risk).

How Flooding is Already Affecting Countries Like Pakistan

While forecasted climate and natural disasters can often take years to manifest, flooding affected more than 100 million people in 2021. Recent summer floods in Pakistan have continued the trend in 2022.

With 31% of its population (72 million people) at risk of flooding, Pakistan is particularly vulnerable to floods.

In 2010, floods in Pakistan were estimated to have affected more than 18 million people. The recent floods, which started in June, are estimated to have affected more than 33 million people as more than one-third of the country is submerged underwater.

The Cost of Floods Today and in the Future

Although the rising human toll is by far the biggest concern that floods present, they also bring with them massive economic costs. Last year, droughts, floods, and storms caused economic losses totaling $224.2 billion worldwide, nearly doubling the 2001-2020 annual average of $117.8 billion.

A recent report forecasted that water risk (caused by droughts, floods, and storms) could eat up $5.6 trillion of global GDP by 2050, with floods projected to account for 36% of these direct losses.

As both human and economic losses caused by floods continue to mount, nations around the world will need to focus on preventative infrastructure and restorative solutions for ecosystems and communities already affected and most at risk of flooding.

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