Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Satellites Unlock Secret To Northern India's Vanishing Water

Date:
August 19, 2009
Source:
University of California - Irvine
Summary:
Using satellite data, hydrologists have found that groundwater beneath northern India has been receding by as much as 1 foot per year over the past decade -- and they believe human consumption is almost entirely to blame.

The map shows groundwater changes in India during 2002-08, with losses in red and gains in blue, based on GRACE satellite observations. The estimated rate of depletion of groundwater in northwestern India is 4.0 centimeters of water per year, equivalent to a water table decline of 33 centimeters per year. Increases in groundwater in southern India are due to recent above-average rainfall, whereas rain in northwestern India was close to normal during the study period.
Credit: I. Velicogna/UC Irvine

Using satellite data, UC Irvine and NASA hydrologists have found that groundwater beneath northern India has been receding by as much as 1 foot per year over the past decade – and they believe human consumption is almost entirely to blame.

Related Articles


More than 109 cubic kilometers (26 cubic miles) of groundwater disappeared from the region's aquifers between 2002 and 2008 – double the capacity of India's largest surface-water reservoir, the Upper Wainganga, and triple that of Lake Mead, the largest manmade reservoir in the U.S.

People are pumping northern India's underground water, mostly to irrigate cropland, faster than natural processes can replenish it, said Jay Famiglietti and Isabella Velicogna, UCI Earth system scientists, and Matt Rodell of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

"If measures are not soon taken to ensure sustainable groundwater usage, consequences for the 114 million residents of the region may include a collapse of agricultural output, severe shortages of potable water, conflict and suffering," said Rodell, lead author of the study and former doctoral student of Famiglietti's at the University of Texas at Austin.

Study results will be published online Aug. 12 in the journal Nature.

Groundwater comes from the percolation of precipitation and other surface waters down through Earth's soil and rock, accumulating in aquifers – cavities and layers of porous rock, gravel, sand or clay. In some subterranean reservoirs, the water may be thousands to millions of years old; in others, water levels decline and rise again naturally each year.

Groundwater levels do not respond to changes in weather as rapidly as lakes, streams and rivers do. So when groundwater is pumped for irrigation or other uses, restoration of original levels can take months or years.

"Groundwater mining – that is when withdrawals exceed replenishment rates – is a rapidly growing problem in many of the world's large aquifers," Famiglietti said. "Since groundwater provides nearly 80 percent of the water required for irrigated agriculture, diminishing groundwater reserves pose a serious threat to global food security."

Data provided by India's Ministry of Water Resources had suggested that groundwater use across the nation was exceeding natural replenishment, but the regional rate of depletion had been unknown.

In the new study, the hydrologists analyzed six years of monthly data for northern India from twin satellites called GRACE – NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment – to produce a chronology of underground water storage changes.

GRACE detects differences in gravity brought about by fluctuations in water mass, including water below the Earth's surface. As the satellites orbit 300 miles above Earth, their positions change – relative to each other – in response to variations in the pull of gravity. They fly about 137 miles apart, and microwave ranging systems measure every microscopic variance in the distance between the two.

"With GRACE, we can monitor water storage changes everywhere in the world from our desk," said Velicogna, also with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "The satellites allow us to observe how water storage evolves from one month to the next in critical areas of the world."

Groundwater loss in northern India is particularly alarming because there were no unusual trends in rainfall – in fact, it was slightly above normal during the study period. The researchers also examined data on soil moisture, lake and surface reservoir storage, vegetation and glaciers in the nearby Himalayas to confirm that the apparent groundwater trend was real. The only influence they couldn't rule out was human.

"For the first time, we can observe water use on land with no additional ground-based data collection," Famiglietti said. "This is critical because in many developing countries, where hydrological data are both sparse and hard to access, space-based methods provide perhaps the only opportunity to assess changes in freshwater availability across large regions."

About GRACE: The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment is a partnership between NASA and the German Aerospace Center. The University of Texas Center for Space Research, Austin, has overall mission responsibility. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory developed the twin satellites. The German Aerospace Center provided the launch, and GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam, Germany, operates GRACE.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Irvine. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of California - Irvine. "Satellites Unlock Secret To Northern India's Vanishing Water." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 August 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090812143938.htm>.
University of California - Irvine. (2009, August 19). Satellites Unlock Secret To Northern India's Vanishing Water. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090812143938.htm
University of California - Irvine. "Satellites Unlock Secret To Northern India's Vanishing Water." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090812143938.htm (accessed October 31, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Friday, October 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How A Chorus Led Scientists To A New Frog Species

How A Chorus Led Scientists To A New Frog Species

Newsy (Oct. 30, 2014) A frog noticed by a conservationist on New York's Staten Island has been confirmed as a new species after extensive study and genetic testing. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Hawaii Lava Inches Closer

Raw: Hawaii Lava Inches Closer

AP (Oct. 30, 2014) Aerial video shows the path lava has carved across a portion of Hawaii's big island, threatening homes in the town of Pahoa. Officials say the flow was just over 230 yards from a roadway Thursday morning. (Oct. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Hawaii Lava Approaching Village Road

Raw: Hawaii Lava Approaching Village Road

AP (Oct. 30, 2014) The lava flow on the Big Island of Hawaii was 225 yards from Pahoa Village Road on Wednesday night. The lava is slowing down but still approaching the village. (Oct. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Endangered Carpathian Ponies Are Making a Comeback in Poland

Endangered Carpathian Ponies Are Making a Comeback in Poland

AFP (Oct. 29, 2014) At the foot of the rugged Carpathian mountains near the Polish-Ukrainian border, ranchers and scientists are trying to protect the Carpathian pony, known as the Hucul in Polish. Duration: 02:17 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins