Global Water Use May Outstrip Freshwater Supply by 2050

First Posted: Mar 24, 2015 08:10 AM EDT

Water is essential to life on Earth. But what happens when demand outpaces the supply of water? Scientists have found that population growth could very well cause the global demand for water to outpace supply by the mid-century if current levels of consumption continue.

In order to learn a bit more about water use, the researchers used a delayed-feedback mathematical model. This model analyzed historic data to help project future trends. This revealed a regularly recurring pattern of global wateruse in recent centures. It showed periods of increased demand for water, which often coincided with population growth or other demographic social changes, were followed by periods of rapid innovation of new water technologies that helped end or ease shortages.

"Researchers in other fields have previously used this model to predict earthquakes and other complex processes, including events like the boom and bust of the stock market during financial crises, but this is the first itme it's been applied to water use," said Anthony Parolari, the leader of the new study, in a news release. "What the model shows us is that there will likely be a new phase of change in the global water supply by the mid-21st century."

Currently, we're in a period of relatively stagnant growth. Per-capita water use has been declining since 1980, largely due to improved efficiency measures and heightened public awareness of the importance of conserving Earth's limited supply of freshwater. However, if population growth trends continue, per-capita water use will have to decline sharply so that there's enough water to meet demand.

"The model suggests we may reach a tipping point where efficiency measures are no longer sufficient and water scarcity either impacts population growth or pushes us to find new water supplies," said Parolari.

The findings reveal that in the future, it will be necessary to create better methods for water conservation in order to meet global demand.

The findings are published in the journal Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water.

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