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Space NASA: Rapid Loss of Freshwater from Middle East Region

NASA: Rapid Loss of Freshwater from Middle East Region

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First Posted: Feb 13, 2013 06:10 AM EST
NASA: Rapid Loss of Freshwater from Middle East Region
A recent study by NASA reveals that large parts of the dry Middle East region lost freshwater rapidly that is almost the size of the Dead Sea during the past decade. (Photo : NASA/UC Irvine/NCAR)

A recent study by NASA reveals that large parts of the dry Middle East region lost freshwater rapidly, almost the size of the Dead Sea, during the past decade. According to the researchers, nearly 60 percent of the loss is due to the growing demand of groundwater and the 2007 drought.

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The study, conducted by scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; University of California at Irvine; and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., has for the first time carried comprehensive hydrological assessments of the entire Tigris-Euphrates-Western Iran region using NASA's twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites.

"GRACE data show an alarming rate of decrease in total water storage in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which currently have the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India," Jay Famiglietti, principle investigator of the study and a hydrologist and professor at UC Irvine, said in a press statement.

GRACE periodically measures the gravity regionally and tells how each region's water storage alters over time. By using GRACE, the researchers were able to estimate the changes in the groundwater storage.

Based on their calculation, nearly one-fifth of the water losses were from soil drying up and snow packs melting, as well as the 2007 drought. Another fifth of the loss was due to the loss of surface water from lakes and reservoirs. Majority of the loss, which was about 73 million acre feet water loss, was due to groundwater reductions.

This water can meet the needs of more than a hundred million people in the region each year. And it depends on regional water use standards and availability, Famiglietti continues to say. 

According to Kate Voss, a water policy fellow with the University of California's Center for Hydrological Modelling in Irvine and a lead author of the study, water management in the Middle East is a complicated issue. 

Famiglietti explains that the dry areas are getting drier over time and it is time the Middle East as well as the other dry regions of the world manage the available water resources as best as they can.

The scientists hope that this finding highlights the importance of ground water monitoring, and that ground water is drawn when it is really needed.

The details of the study were published in the journal Water Resources Research.

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