Secret to northern India's vanishing water unlocked by scientists

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Washington, August 13 (ANI): Using NASA satellite data, scientists have found that as a result of human activities, groundwater levels in northern India have been declining by as much as one foot per year over the past decade.

More than 26 cubic miles of groundwater disappeared from aquifers in areas of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and the nation's capitol territory of Delhi, between 2002 and 2008.

A team of hydrologists led by Matt Rodell of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, found that northern India's underground water supply is being pumped and consumed by human activities, such as irrigating cropland, and is draining aquifers faster than natural processes can replenish them.

The finding is based on data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), a pair of satellites that sense changes in Earth's gravity field and associated mass distribution, including water masses stored above or below Earth's surface.

Groundwater comes from the natural percolation of precipitation and other surface waters down through Earth's soil and rock, accumulating in cavities and layers of porous rock, gravel, sand or clay.

Groundwater levels respond slowly to changes in weather and can take months or years to replenish once pumped for irrigation or other uses.

Data provided by India's Ministry of Water Resources to the NASA-funded researchers suggested groundwater use across India was exceeding natural replenishment, but the regional rate of depletion was unknown.

Rodell and colleagues analyzed six years of monthly GRACE data for northern India to produce a time series of water storage changes beneath the land surface.

"We don't know the absolute volume of water in the northern Indian aquifers, but GRACE provides strong evidence that current rates of water extraction are not sustainable," said Rodell.

"The region has become dependent on irrigation to maximize agricultural productivity. If measures are not taken to ensure sustainable groundwater usage, the consequences for the 114 million residents of the region may include a collapse of agricultural output and severe shortages of potable water," he added.

Researchers examined data and models of soil moisture, lake and reservoir storage, vegetation and glaciers in the nearby Himalayas in order to confirm that the apparent groundwater trend was real.

The loss is particularly alarming because it occurred when there were no unusual trends in rainfall. (ANI)

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