Category Archives: Science

Study Finds We Vastly Underestimate Water Management’s Depletion of Freshwater

dam-reservoir

Here’s a frightening word of the day: “evapotranspiration.” It simply refers to water lost to the atmosphere by evaporation, or after being consumed and released into the air by plant life. It wasn’t so ominous last week, but it is this week because a new study in the journal Science puts it in a new context: unsustainable human use of freshwater.

Essentially, the study finds human have used 18 percent more of the planet’s freshwater than we previously thought, because we’ve underestimated the impact of our water-management systems, such as irrigation, dams and reservoirs. They cause more water to be lost to the atmosphere than would occur naturally, effecting precipitation patterns. Gather a lot of water in one place, like a reservoir, for instance, and more of it evaporates across the greater surface area exposed to air. The researchers studied the ratio of evapotranspiration to precipitation between 1901 and 2008, finding a significant increase in the latter half of the time period.

The additional 18 percent tips our water use into the unsustainable category given the increasing human population, the researchers warn. As Chelsea Harvey writes in her article about the study in The Washington Post, “The study highlights a critical need for better monitoring of our freshwater use and the ways our management techniques can affect the water cycle, as [study co-author Fernando] Jaramillo noted that the current effects of human water management ‘are even larger and more recognizable than the effects of atmospheric climate change.’”

Read more:

Alarming research finds humans are using up far more of Earth’s water than previously thought – The Washington Post

Local flow regulation and irrigation raise global human water consumption and footprint – Science

Related posts:

World Water Day: UN World Water Development Report Warns of Global Crisis by 2030

At the Point of ‘Peak Water,’ Our Foreseeable Future Grows Shorter

Mapping the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries

Serious Water Conservation Demands Layered Approach and Emotional Commitment

Over-Salted: The Trouble(s) With Desalination

Study: Freshwater Shortage Will Double Climate Change’s Impact on Agriculture

Unchecked Emissions Will Drain Water Resources, Warns Leaked U.N. Report

Study Describes Vast Reserves of Water Under Ocean Floors

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Filed under Agriculture, Climate Change, Conservation, Dams and Hydropower, Drought, Environment, Groundwater, Rivers and Watersheds, Science, Sustainability, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Understanding Water Crises: New Resources Added

 

The At the Waterline blog’s Water Resources page has been updated with 12 new additions in the past few weeks, for a total of 83 links to sources of information and action on issues related to freshwater scarcity.

Check out the new additions:

aquaNOW.info: the World’s Water Data Engine

The CEO Water Mandate

Ceres: Mobilising Business Leadership or a Sustainable World (Issues: Water Issues)

>>> Ceres: Feeding Ourselves Thirsty: How the Food Sector Is Managing Global Water Risks (full report)

FAN: Freshwater Action Network

The Guardian: Access to clean water and sanitation around the world – mapped

LLoyd’s 360 Risk Insight: Global Water Scarcity, Risks and Challenges for Business

Water Defense

The Solutions Project (U.S. state plans for 100% clean, renewable energy)

WaterLex: Publications*

World Health Organisation (WHO): Health Topics: Water

WHO Programmes: Water Sanitation Health

(*Note: The international public-interest development organization WaterLex employs me as its head of communications. )

 

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Filed under Blog Changes and Updates, Climate Change, Conservation, Human rights, Law, NGOs, Research, Science, Sustainability, Technology, United Nations, Water Resources

The Water in Our Bodies Makes Us All Part Alien, Sort of

Image: Jonathan Knowles, Getty Images

Image: Jonathan Knowles, Getty Images

“A new study published today (Sept. 25) in the journal Science suggests that between 10 to 30 percent of the Earth’s water is older than the sun, and likely hails from comets born outside our solar system. That means that the human body, which is 60 percent water, contains a significant percentage of extraterrestrial aqua; in that sense, we are all part alien.”  – Douglas Main, Newsweek

And if it’s true of us, it’s probably true of others. Life elsewhere may take similar forms because water may form its basis, as it does ours.

Read more:

Much of Earth’s Water Is Older Than the Sun, and Came From Deep SpaceNewsweek

Up to Half of Earth’s Water Is Older Than the SunNew Scientist

Half of Earth’s Water Formed Before the Sun Was BornScience

Related posts:

Water Found in Stardust Could Mean a Universe Seeded With Life

 

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Filed under Groundwater, Oceans, Science, Space, Water Resources

Oceans of Water Beneath Our Reach

Image: tomburke.co.uk

Image: tomburke.co.uk

A study published yesterday in the journal Science suggests oceans of water are locked in rock about 400 miles below Earth’s surface. It’s not liquid, ice or vapor, but rather hydrogen and oxygen embedded in the molecular structure of mineral rock. Researchers think it may help explain some things about how the planet formed, and how oceans gathered on the planet’s surface, which is great. But for many observers the first question is, how do we get at it? And the answer is a flat no, we don’t get anywhere near this stuff, much less turn it into a usable form, because it’s far too deep in the mantle. It’s 400 miles down, and the deepest humans have ever drilled is less than 10 miles.

Read more:

Dehydration melting at the top of the lower mantleScience

Water discovered deep beneath Earth’s surfaceUSA Today

New evidence of oceans of water deep in the Earth – Phys.Org

Oceans of water locked 400 miles inside Earth – Discovery News

Related posts:

Study Describes Vast Reserves of Water Under Ocean Floors

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Filed under Groundwater, Oceans, Research, Science, Water Resources

Are We in the Midst of the Next Mass Extinction?

The Sixth ExtinctionGet the antidepressants ready. I’m going above and beyond my normal reading about water crises and brushing up on the next mass extinction, which some scientists consider to be in progress at this very moment. My wife saw me eyeing Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History in a Geneva bookshop this morning and bought it for me, despite knowing that I will probably blather on about it for weeks to come. Essentially, the theory is that another mass extinction, where most life on the planet goes the way of the dinosaurs (they were famously wiped out in the fifth and most recent mass extinction), is coming — and humans have greatly accelerated it by causing climate change. Looks like it’ll be a hoot! But seriously, hide the whiskey.

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Filed under Books, Climate Change, Extinction, Pollution, Research, Science

If You Could Advise the UN on Water, What Would You Say?

Image: United Nations

Image: United Nations

The Guardian, known for some of the best environmental reporting coming out of the U.K., posed a question to a bevy of experts in honor of World Water Day 2014, on March 22: “What one piece of advice would you give the UN on water?” More specifically, how should water fit into the post-2015 development agenda? Following up on my recent World Water Day posts below, here’s a link to the answers given by the water wonks from the worlds of business, NGOs and government.

There’s broad agreement among the experts that there should be specific water and sanitation Sustainable Development Goals, just as there was enthusiastic agreement at the UN briefing I recently attended at the WMO in Geneva, Switzerland. Water will be frequently mentioned among other goals because it connects everything, but mere mentions here and there won’t be enough to give the world the clean water and effective sanitation that so many people lack.

Read more:

What one piece of advice would you give the UN on water?  – The Guardian Water hub

Related posts:

Water’s Place Among Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals

At the Point of ‘Peak Water,’ Our Foreseeable Future Grows Shorter

UNICEF Says Put Down Your Cell Phone for a Few Minutes to Help Kids Get Water

Mapping the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries

The Intersection of Environmental Issues and Human Rights

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Filed under Africa, Blog Changes and Updates, Bottled Water, Caribbean, Dams and Hydropower, Industry, Science, Space, Uncategorized, Wastewater Treatment

Now You See It, Now You Don’t: Temporary Waterways Need Protection, Too

Image: hunting-washington.com

Image: hunting-washington.com

Temporary waters are waterways that don’t always have a visible connection to nearby surface waters, such as rivers and lakes, during the course of a year. Nevertheless, that dry stream bed or marsh area is part of the larger water network. A study released earlier this month in the journal Science outlines the value of temporary waters and describes how numerous countries do not include such waterways in their legal frameworks. Leaving temporary waterways outside of the law also leaves them vulnerable to human activity, like development and pollution, which can damage the surrounding water network. The study’s authors point out that the numbers of temporary waterways are underestimated in various parts of the world, and that their frequency will increase due to climate change.

Read more:

Temporary waters and intermittent streams at risk: International scientists urge science-based policy – National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center

Why should we care about temporary waterways? – Science

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Filed under Conservation, Industry, Law, North America, Pollution, Research, Rivers and Watersheds, Science, Water Resources

Water Resources Spotlight: Green Growth Knowledge Platform

Image: piazzaffari.info

Image: piazzaffari.info

Last month the launch of the Green Growth Knowledge Platform (GGKP) coincided with the opening of the organization’s office at the International Environment House in Geneva, Switzerland, on Jan. 22. It was a stellar opportunity for me to get out of the house, but I missed it. So I doubled back and talked by phone with the group about its efforts.

What’s the point of GGKP? As Benjamin Simmons, the organization’s head. puts it in this succinct-yet-comprehensive overview: “Our aim is straightforward: to give policy makers, academics, experts and other professionals easy access to the most relevant green growth studies, policy analysis, guidance and data.”

It’s all about putting the best information about sustainable development and ways of reaching the goal of a “green economy” in front of the right people.  The link in the previous sentence goes to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which boils down the definition of green economy to its essence: It’s low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. 

“The first part of our mission is about catalyzing research in and  around green growth,” said Amanda McKee, GGKP’s communications and outreach officer, based in Washington, D.C. “The second part of our mission is to make all the research acceptable to policy makers and practitioners.”

The data in the platform covers a lot of ground. The resource library contains about 600 publications organized by sector (e.g., water) and cross-cutting theme (e.g., gender), McKee said, adding that data is also organized geographically, representing 193 countries (see the Green Growth Map).

There’s also a collaborative element aimed at filling green-growth knowledge gaps. Currently, committees are looking at four topics: trade and competitiveness, technology and innovation, measurement and indicators, and fiscal instruments.  “If we’re able to generate results from this, we’ll branch out into other topics and launch new committees,” McKee said.

And how will GGKP know if it’s succeeding in its overall mission?

“We’re in the process of developing indicators for measuring success,” McKee said. “In terms of the knowledge-generation aspect, I think the way we’ll measure success is how much of this research is  ultimately picked up by these communities. On the knowledge-management side, a sign of success would be how many policy makers or government officials are making use of resources to put in place green-growth strategies or policies.”

The GGKP was established by the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the World Bank, where it was initially “incubated,” McKee said. Those steering organizations provide in-kind contributions and part-time staffing to GGKP, while strategic funding comes from the government of Switzerland, which is providing 1.6 million CHF over three years.

GGKP’s main event is its annual conference; the next one, organized by UNEP, will take place in February 2015.  The group sometimes stages side-events at major conferences, like the “open-thinking event on the expansion of green-growth knowledge” planned for UNEP’s inaugural Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) conference coming up in Dubai, UAE, March 4-5, McKee said.

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Filed under Climate Change, Conservation, Environment, Europe, Events, Human rights, NGOs, Pollution, Research, Science, Technology, United Nations, Water Resources

Water Found in Stardust Could Mean a Universe Seeded With Life

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

Score one for those who “want to believe” in extraterrestrial life, a la FBI Agent Fox Mulder of TV classic “The X-Files.” A cosmic rain of interstellar dust could be seeding planets across the universe with the building blocks of life as we know it — water and carbon. For the first time, a study has found water inside actual stardust, in addition to organic elements like carbon, according to a report in New Scientist.

“The implications are potentially huge,” says Hope Ishii of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, one of the researchers behind the study, in a quote from the article. “It is a particularly thrilling possibility that this influx of dust on the surfaces of solar system bodies has acted as a continuous rainfall of little reaction vessels containing both the water and organics needed for the eventual origin of life.”

Ultra-high-resolution microscopy allowed researchers to detect tiny pockets of water trapped beneath the surface of dust particles. Lab experiments have suggested how the water gets there. The dust, oxygen-rich from silicates, collides in space with a solar wind made in part of hydrogen ions. In the collision, hydrogen and oxygen combine and make water. In theory, anywhere there is a star (e.g., the sun), this can happen.

Read more:

Water found in stardust suggests life is universalNew Scientist

How much of the human body is made up of stardust? – Physics Central

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Filed under Science, Space, Technology