Middle East Freshwater Reserves Declining, Shows Study


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A new study has shown that much of the Middle East lost freshwater reserves over the past decade.

The study, to be published this week in the journal Water Resources Research, was based on data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites. The findings show that, starting in 2003, parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins lost 144 cubic kilometers (117 million acre feet) of stored freshwater - nearly the same about of water found in the Dead Sea.

"GRACE data show an alarming rate of decrease in total water storage in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which currently have the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India," said Jay Famiglietti, principle investigator of the study and a hydrologist at the University of California, Irvine. "The rate was especially striking after the 2007 drought. Meanwhile, demand for freshwater continues to rise, and the region does not coordinate its water management because of different interpretations of international laws."

The GRACE satellites measure water reserves using gravitational measurements. Since the level of water reserves alters the Earth's mass, the satellites can precisely measure local gravitational effects to estimate a region's change in water reserves.

The study blames around 60% of the loss to the pumping of groundwater from underground reservoirs. Around another 20% was attributed to soil drying and snowpack shrinkage. The final one-fifth was attributed to the loss of surface water from lakes and reservoirs.

"The Middle East just does not have that much water to begin with, and it's a part of the world that will be experiencing less rainfall with climate change," said Famiglietti. "Those dry areas are getting dryer. The Middle East and the world's other arid regions need to manage available water resources as best they can."