Irrigation and Groundwater Depletion

  • Released Wednesday, March 29, 2017
  • ID: 4523

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.

Asia irrigation only (no groundwater depletion).

Asia groundwater depletion only (no irrigation).


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


This visualization is based on the following papers:

Datasets used in this visualization

Y. Wada et al. Global Annual Groundwater Depletion, 1900-2100, 0.5 deg
Y. Wada et al. Global Monthly Irrigation, 1/12 deg, 1900-2005

Note: While we identify the data sets used in these visualizations, we do not store any further details nor the data sets themselves on our site.

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