We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

98. Groundwater, Running on Empty

Earth's underground aquifers are at risk of being sucked dry.

By Tasha Eichenseher
Jan 2, 2013 6:00 AMNov 12, 2019 4:38 AM
Efficient irrigation practices may help ease the pressure on groundwater resources. | prudkov / shutterstock


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

The underground aquifers that store more than 90 percent of Earth's liquid freshwater are at risk of being sucked dry. A study published in Nature in August showed that annual demand from the world's 783 large regional aquifers is 3.5 times the amount that is replenished. The impact could be profound: Groundwater sustains nearly 2 billion people and provides almost 40 percent of crop irrigation worldwide. Tom Gleeson, a hydrologist at McGill University, calculated each major aquifer's footprint—the area needed to sustain its use—and compared that with the actual size of the aquifer. "In many of the places where the footprint is larger than the aquifer, we are unsustainably mining groundwater," he says. Gleeson suggests switching to more water-efficient farming in India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mexico, and the United States, countries that are overtaxing their groundwater supplies the most.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.