There are currently about 7 billion people on Earth and by the middle of this century the number will most likely be between 9 and 10 billion. A greater proportion of these people will in real terms be wealthier than they are today and will demand a varied diet requiring greater resources in its production. Increasing demand for food will coincide with supply-side pressures: greater competition for water, land, and energy, and the accelerating effects of climate change. The need to produce food in ways that are more environmentally sustainable will become ever more pressing. And while global wealth will grow, not everyone will benefit, and the world will continue to be faced with the challenges of hunger and malnutrition, especially in the least developed countries. At the other end of the nutrition spectrum, we face a global epidemic of obesity.
This extract was taken from chapter 6 of Is the Planet Full?, edited by Ian Goldin.
Image: Urban life, © vkoletic, via iStock Photo
These maps show both the water sources for a number of bottled water producers and the current drought conditions in the United States.
Top 10 U.S. Cities Running Out of Water
Even as we watch the stunning footage of an overwhelmed Detroit drowning under massive rainfall, U.S. Drought Monitor shows other regions of the country parched and longing for more water.
Enormous groundwater usage in western U.S.
NASA’s GRACE satellites have produced a spectacular database that can be used to look beneath the Earth’s surface. Launched in 2002, these satellites measure Earth’s gravity field at high precision, allowing small changes in where mass is distributed in the Earth’s crust to be discovered.
One of the big ways this happens is through groundwater pumping. When groundwater is pumped to the surface and used, it either evaporates or runs off towards the ocean, removing mass from an area. GRACE therefore gives scientists the ability to monitor how groundwater has been used over the last decade.
A key area for groundwater usage is in the Western U.S. That area has, on average, had its driest 10 years out of the last century, leading to huge drawdowns in water in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the reservoirs on the Colorado River.
But that isn’t the only water source being used up. Using data from GRACE, scientists led by Dr. Stephanie Castle at UC Irvine were able to calculate how much water has been extracted from the ground in the area over the past 10 years.
Their result is staggering. Since 2004, the groundwater depletion in the Colorado River basin is the equivalent of twice the volume of Lake Mead.
Let’s say that again. Groundwater is a finite resource and in the past decade alone, areas like Arizona, Colorado, California, New Mexico, and Nevada have pumped out and used 2 Lake Meads worth of water from the ground.
This dataset doesn’t tell how much water is there in the ground to be used, but that volume is staggering. There has been a lot of focus, from us included, on the management of water levels in Lake Mead and its potential impacts on the area. To think that groundwater pumping in the region is using up two of those every 10 years means the region is relying far more on a finite resource than almost anyone would have guessed. At those usage rates, if groundwater supplies began to dry up, replacing that water would use up the entire Lake Mead reservoir in 5 years.
Image credit: US Department of Agriculture
Recession of the Dead Sea
Neve Zohar, Israel
In recent decades, the water level of the Dead Sea has been dropping at more than 3 feet per year due to the extraction of raw materials and the diversion of water to the north (noticeable here). The Dead Sea level drop has been followed by a groundwater level drop, causing brines that used to occupy underground layers near the shoreline to be flushed out by freshwater. These declines have caused the recent appearance of massive cavities and sinkholes along the sea’s western shore. Consequently, in December 2013, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement to lay a water pipeline that will link the Red Sea with the Dead Sea in an attempt to replenish devastated areas.
230 Businesses and Politicians Call on Obama to Harness Offshore Wind
There are more than 4,000 gigawatts of offshore wind potential along U.S. coastlines, but not a single project to speak of. A group of 230 businesses, nonprofits and politicians have called on President Obama to change that.
READ MORE on EcoWatch: http://ecowatch.com/2013/12/11/businesses-politicians-obama-offshore-wind/
A map of the wind energy in India(“Wind energy near,” 2010).
Lotus Lake - Udon Thani, Thailand
A true surprise in Thailand’s Northeast - often considered to be solely a rice-farming region - these wetlands remain predominantly hidden by tall elephant grasses that belie the expanses of water lying beyond them, and are known for the most part only by the local villagers who venture out to fish and to collect snails and lotus stalks for use in the preparation of their daily meals.
Best visited in the cool season from December through February, these shallow, limpid waters may only be visited on a wooden boat belonging to the local fishermen and villagers. Having cleared the elephant grasses, a thick carpet of pink lotus blooms suddenly confronts you. A constellation of millions of startling, flamingo-pink lotus flowers dance above the crystalline waters of the Lotus Sea.
A massive aquifer that holds enough water to meet all of Kenya’s needs for 70 years has been discovered, ITV News can reveal.
The pool, which was found more than 300 metres underground, is so large you could pour Loch Ness into it approximately 25 times.
The aquifer is replenished from distant mountains. So it should never run dry, assuming it is managed properly.
We now have a tool that could not only help Kenya, but it could help other countries facing the issues of water scarcity.
– Abou Amani, UNESCO
Lotikipi in numbers:
- The aquifer is approximately 100 km (62 miles) by 66 km (41 miles).
- It has a surface area of 4,164 km2.
- It contains an estimated 200 billion cubic metres of fresh water.
- Lotikipi alone holds 900% more than Kenya’s current water reserves.
UNESCO and the Kenyan government - funded by Japan - have been using satellite, radar and geological technology in a bid to find supplies of water.
Earlier this year, they discovered five aquifers in north west Kenya and began exploratory drilling on two. As well as Lotikipi, a much smaller pool of water was found in Lodwar.
The discovery of Lotikipi will be officially announced on Wednesday (11 September) when the Kenyan government will also reveal how they plan to use the resource for the good of the country.
UNESCO is also exploring possible new water sources in other Africa countries such as South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya.
This map, from Maplecroft, shows the locations of shale gas basins and water stress in China. China would like to exploit its significant reserves of shale oil and gas, but to do so requires huge amounts of water, which China is notoriously short of. Moreover, the locations of water stress and shale gas tend to coincide. Massive new canal projects to bring water from the south may alleviate northern China’s water stress.