Satellites Show Alarming Water Loss In The Middle East

For seven years, researchers used NASA’s GRACE satellites, which measure Earth’s gravitational pull from space, to monitor rising and falling water levels in the Middle East along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This in turn, provided a picture of water storage changes over time.  

A compilation of satellite images reveals that Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran lost 117 million acre feet of stored freshwater between 2003 and 2010, which is roughly equal to the amount of water in the Dead Sea, according to a press release. 

In the visualisation below, red represents drier conditions and blue represents wetter conditions. 

There are several reasons for the recent water loss. A drought in 2007, which reduced the amount of surface water available, placed more pressure on groundwater pumping to irrigate farm land. 

Lack of rainfall, and more frequent dry spells, is a response to climate change. On top of all this, the region’s demand for freshwater is increasing. 

The Tigris and Euphrates river basins have the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India, Jay Famiglietti, the study’s principle investigator and a hydrologist and professor at UC Irvine, said in a news statement.  

“The Middle East just does not have that much water to begin with, and it’s a part of the world that will be experiencing less rainfall with climate change,” said Famiglietti. “Those dry areas are getting dryer. The Middle East and the world’s other arid regions need to manage available water resources as best they can.”

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