Study Describes Vast Reserves of Water Under Ocean Floors

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Image: David Snow

On the very day I was beginning to put together this blog, Dec. 5, the journal Nature published a new study by a group of Australian researchers that may seem to negate any need for another blog about the looming global water crisis.

The study, Offshore fresh groundwater reserves as a global phenomenon, finds that fresh and brackish water deposits under oceans are much more common, and much more vast, than previously thought.  The research team estimates that the reserves amount to 120,000 cubic miles of water.

“The volume of this water resource is a hundred times greater than the amount we’ve extracted from the Earth’s sub-surface in the past century since 1900,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Vincent Post, said in a statement. He and his team are at of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training and the School of the Environment at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.

Post explained that the oceans are at much higher surface levels today than they were 20,000 years ago, when polar ice caps began to melt, adding water volume over time. What was once ground has aquifers filled with groundwater underneath. These aquifers, though underneath large bodies of salt water, are otherwise similar to the ones under dry land that are being depleted all over the world.

So, if there’s so much more water out there than we thought, why should I continue to study it as a precious and finite resource that could cause more global conflict than oil in the coming decades? Because of what lies between these massive reserves of water and their ability to sustain people and communities: complex infrastructure and high costs. As Post and his team point out, the water will have to be pumped from ocean platforms or facilities on nearby dry land. That, plus the need for desalination, make getting the water where it’s needed, in a drinkable state, a tall order. On the plus side, as the study indicates, the water is not as salty as seawater, so the desalination is that much less energy-intensive.

After all is said and done, however, this massive “new” resource is still finite. As Post noted, aquifers under oceans won’t be refilled with new groundwater until the oceans recede again, “which is not likely to happen for a very long time.” (Possibly a bit of understatement, that.)

Read more about the study and its implications.

UPDATE: Offshore fresh water aquifers: Which law will apply? – International Water Law Project Blog

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Filed under Desalination, Groundwater, Oceans, Research, Technology, Water Shortage

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