Quantum of Water

>> Friday, January 16, 2009

About the same time Quantum of Solace came out, UNESCO released this world map of freshwater aquifers. Particularly timely because many areas of the world suffer from a lack of clean water.

As the New Scientist reported:

"This [map] is a fantastic resource which a lot of us have been waiting for it for," says Mark Zeitoun, a water policy expert at the London School of Economics. "It highlights the importance of groundwater resources, which is generally misunderstood or ignored completely compared to surface water."

The increasing reliance on aquifer groundwater - because there is more of it and it tends to be less contaminated by industrial run-off - has been called the "groundwater revolution".
But it is a revolution with worrying environmental consequences. In many parts of the world, around the Mediterranean for example, but also in the US and the Middle East, water tables are falling and aquifers are being infiltrated by seawater as agricultural practices pump water out faster than it can be replenished by rain.

When aquifers fall between countries, sustainable management requires international agreement. Yet, historically, many agreements have been weighted towards the richest or more powerful country.

The most well-known example of this is the 1995 agreement between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities. This granted Israel rights to 90% of the water contained in four aquifers (and the Jordan river) which span both territories.
It's not just foreign countries that are having problems with water. The US has many problems with water management such as the resources devoted to agriculture. Many aquifers, such as the Ogallala Aquifer in the US, take thousands of years (10,000) to recharge.

On the flip side, due to global warming, some areas are receiving more snow than usual. Such areas include the Great Lakes region as reported by Science Daily in 2003! Seems obvious this year considering how much snow the Chicago area has already received.
Global warming has had a surprising impact on the Great Lakes region of the U.S. – more snow. A comparative study of snowfall records in and outside of the Great Lakes region indicated a significant increase in snowfall in the Great Lakes region since the 1930s but no such increase in non-Great Lakes areas.

A team of researchers, led by Colgate Associate Professor of Geography Adam Burnett, published the study, “Increasing Great Lake-Effect Snowfall during the Twentieth Century: A Regional Response to Global Warming?” in the November issue of the Journal of Climate.

Syracuse, NY, one of the snowiest cities in the U.S., experienced four of its largest snowfalls on record in the 1990s – the warmest decade in the 20th century, as a result of global warming.

“Recent increases in the water temperature of the Great Lakes are consistent with global warming,” said Burnett. “Such increases widen the gap between water temperature and air temperature – the ideal condition for snowfall.”

The research team compared snowfall records from fifteen weather stations within the Great Lakes region with ten stations at sites outside of the region. Records dating back to 1931 were available for eight of the lake-effect and six of the non-lake-effect areas. Records for the rest of the sample date back to 1950.

“We found a statistically significant increase in snowfall in the lake-effect region since 1931, but no such increase in the non-lake-effect area during the same period,” said Burnett. “This leads us to believe that recent increases in lake-effect snowfall are not the result of changes in regional weather disturbances.”


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