Earth  ID: 4523

Irrigation and Groundwater Depletion

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.

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Visualization Credits

Kathryn Mersmann (USRA): Producer
Ernie Wright (USRA): Lead Visualizer
Ellen T. Gray (ADNET Systems, Inc.): Writer
Michael Puma (Columbia University): Scientist
Thomas Kastner (Alpen-Adria Universitaet Klagenfurt): Scientist
Yoshihide Wada (Columbia University): Scientist
Carole Dalin (University College London): Scientist
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

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

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Data Used:
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.

GCMD >> Earth Science >> Agriculture >> Food Science
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Hydrosphere >> Ground Water
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Agriculture >> Agricultural Plant Science >> Irrigation
SVS >> Hyperwall
SVS >> Food Supply
NASA Science >> Earth

GCMD keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation: Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version