Science: The Hidden Crisis Beneath Our Feet

Most of the world’s unfrozen freshwater is invisible to humanity. Ninety-six percent of it is stored beneath the land surface as groundwater in soil and rock layers called aquifers. However, groundwater’s unobtrusive nature belies its critical importance to global water and food security while simultaneously subjecting it to massive overexploitation. Groundwater is the primary water source for billions of people and for nearly half of irrigated agriculture, yet its inconspicuous presence has allowed groundwater to elude effective governance and management in countless regions around the world. Consequently, more than half of the world’s major aquifers are being depleted, some of them at an alarming pace. On page 418 of this issue, Jasechko and Perrone (5) show that millions of the wells that are used to pump the disappearing groundwater are at risk of running dry.

https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abh2867

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Author:Jay Famiglietti

Jay Famiglietti is a hydrologist, a professor and the Director of the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan, where he holds the Canada 150 Research Chair in Hydrology and Remote Sensing. He is also Chief Scientist of the Silicon Valley tech startup, Waterplan. Before moving to Saskatchewan, he served as the Senior Water Scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. Famiglietti and his research team use satellites and develop computer models to track changing freshwater availability and groundwater depletion around the world. He is an active speaker, a frequent advisor to national and international government officials on water issues, and avid writer for the general public.

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