Irrigation and Groundwater Depletion

  • Released Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A time series of global irrigation and groundwater depletion maps reveals geographical patterns in the use of fresh water for agriculture.

The amount of water involved is enormous. Worldwide, the irrigation of farmland accounts for about 70% of the fresh water diverted by human activity. We might each drink only a few liters (quarts) of water per day, but the food we eat can require a thousand times as much water to produce. Some of the underground aquifers tapped for irrigation replenish so slowly that they are considered a non-renewable resource. The overuse of this groundwater could have long-term consequences for food security and the stability of global markets in food, cotton, and other agricultural products.

A new study by researchers at University College London and NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York City combines trade data and a global water usage model to determine which crops are grown with non-renewable groundwater and where those crops are consumed. The study appears in the March 30, 2017 issue of Nature.

Irrigation and groundwater depletion are shown in Asia. Irrigation is shown for the decades prior to 2000, followed by a model of groundwater depletion in the 21st century.


Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

Release date

This page was originally published on Wednesday, March 29, 2017.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, November 15, 2023 at 12:10 AM EST.

Papers used in this visualization

C. Dalin, Y. Wada, T. Kastner, M. Puma, Groundwater depletion embedded in international food trade. Nature 543, 700-704 (30 March 2017)

Datasets used in this visualization

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