Depleting The Fertile Crescent

  • Released Tuesday, February 19, 2013

When water stops falling from the sky, humans will often search for it below ground. That has been the case over a broad stretch of the Middle East where observations by NASA's twin GRACE (Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment) satellites show a sharp decline in underground freshwater reserves over the last decade. Following a drought in 2007, hundreds of new wells were drilled in the Tigris and Euphrates river basin to obtain water for drinking and agriculture. The basin occupies 339,688 square miles of the Middle East, covering parts of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. By late 2009, the region lost 73 million acre-feet of water—equal to 60 percent of the volume of the Dead Sea—due to pumping from underground reservoirs. NASA scientists say this extraction is happening at a much faster rate than rainfall is restoring the groundwater. The visualization shows GRACE measurements of water gains and losses in the Tigris and Euphrates river basin from January 2003 to December 2009.

The colors indicate changes from the average water supply between Jan. 2003 and Dec. 2009. Blue represents big gains; red represents big losses.

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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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This page was originally published on Tuesday, February 19, 2013.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 at 1:52 PM EDT.