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Concept: Aquifer


Florida is riddled with sinkholes due to its karst topography. Sometimes these sinkholes can cause extensive damage to infrastructure and homes. It has been suggested that agricultural practices, such as sprinkler irrigation methods used to protect crops, can increase the development of sinkholes, particularly when temperatures drop below freezing, causing groundwater levels to drop quickly during groundwater pumping. In the strawberry growing region, Dover/Plant City, Florida, the effects have caused water shortages resulting in dry- wells and ground subsidence through the development of sinkholes that can be costly to maintain and repair. In this study, we look at how frost-freeze events have affected West Central Florida over the past 25 years with detailed comparisons made between two cold-years (with severe frost-freeze events) and a warm year (no frost-freeze events). We analyzed the spatial and temporal correlation between strawberry farming freeze protection practices and the development of sinkholes/dry well complaints, and assessed the economic impact of such events from a water management perspective by evaluating the cost of repairing and drilling new wells and how these compared with using alternative crop-protection methods. We found that the spatial distribution of sinkholes was non-random during both frost-freeze events. A strong correlation between sinkhole occurrence and water extraction and minimum temperatures was found. Furthermore as temperatures fall below 41°F and water levels decrease by more than 20 ft, the number of sinkholes increase greatly (N >10). At this time alternative protection methods such as freeze-cloth are cost prohibitive in comparison to repairing dry wells. In conclusion, the findings from this study are applicable in other agricultural areas and can be used to develop comprehensive water management plans in areas where the abstraction of large quantities of water occur.

Concepts: Agriculture, Aquifer, Groundwater, Irrigation, Spring, Subsidence, Karst topography, Sinkhole


Arsenic-contaminated aquifers are currently estimated to affect ~150 million people around the world. However, the full extent of the problem remains elusive. This is also the case in Pakistan, where previous studies focused on isolated areas. Using a new data set of nearly 1200 groundwater quality samples throughout Pakistan, we have created state-of-the-art hazard and risk maps of arsenic-contaminated groundwater for thresholds of 10 and 50 μg/liter. Logistic regression analysis was used with 1000 iterations, where surface slope, geology, and soil parameters were major predictor variables. The hazard model indicates that much of the Indus Plain is likely to have elevated arsenic concentrations, although the rest of the country is mostly safe. Unlike other arsenic-contaminated areas of Asia, the arsenic release process in the arid Indus Plain appears to be dominated by elevated-pH dissolution, resulting from alkaline topsoil and extensive irrigation of unconfined aquifers, although pockets of reductive dissolution are also present. We estimate that approximately 50 million to 60 million people use groundwater within the area at risk, with hot spots around Lahore and Hyderabad. This number is alarmingly high and demonstrates the urgent need for verification and testing of all drinking water wells in the Indus Plain, followed by appropriate mitigation measures.

Concepts: Statistics, Water, Aquifer, Groundwater, Water well, Pakistan, Arsenic contamination of groundwater, Sindh


Deep groundwater aquifers are poorly characterized but could yield important sources of water in California and elsewhere. Deep aquifers have been developed for oil and gas extraction, and this activity has created both valuable data and risks to groundwater quality. Assessing groundwater quantity and quality requires baseline data and a monitoring framework for evaluating impacts. We analyze 938 chemical, geological, and depth data points from 360 oil/gas fields across eight counties in California and depth data from 34,392 oil and gas wells. By expanding previous groundwater volume estimates from depths of 305 m to 3,000 m in California’s Central Valley, an important agricultural region with growing groundwater demands, fresh [<3,000 ppm total dissolved solids (TDS)] groundwater volume is almost tripled to 2,700 km(3), most of it found shallower than 1,000 m. The 3,000-m depth zone also provides 3,900 km(3) of fresh and saline water, not previously estimated, that can be categorized as underground sources of drinking water (USDWs; <10,000 ppm TDS). Up to 19% and 35% of oil/gas activities have occurred directly in freshwater zones and USDWs, respectively, in the eight counties. Deeper activities, such as wastewater injection, may also pose a potential threat to groundwater, especially USDWs. Our findings indicate that California's Central Valley alone has close to three times the volume of fresh groundwater and four times the volume of USDWs than previous estimates suggest. Therefore, efforts to monitor and protect deeper, saline groundwater resources are needed in California and beyond.

Concepts: Water, Aquifer, Groundwater, California, Seawater, Total dissolved solids, Fog, Central Valley Project


Herbicide use is increasing worldwide both in agriculture and private gardens. However, our knowledge of potential side-effects on non-target soil organisms, even on such eminent ones as earthworms, is still very scarce. In a greenhouse experiment, we assessed the impact of the most widely used glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup on two earthworm species with different feeding strategies. We demonstrate, that the surface casting activity of vertically burrowing earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) almost ceased three weeks after herbicide application, while the activity of soil dwelling earthworms (Aporrectodea caliginosa) was not affected. Reproduction of the soil dwellers was reduced by 56% within three months after herbicide application. Herbicide application led to increased soil concentrations of nitrate by 1592% and phosphate by 127%, pointing to potential risks for nutrient leaching into streams, lakes, or groundwater aquifers. These sizeable herbicide-induced impacts on agroecosystems are particularly worrisome because these herbicides have been globally used for decades.

Concepts: Soil, Aquifer, Irrigation, Earthworm, Lumbricidae, Herbicide, Roundup, Lumbricus terrestris


The 2012-2015 drought has left California with severely reduced snowpack, soil moisture, ground water, and reservoir stocks, but the impact of this estimated millennial-scale event on forest health is unknown. We used airborne laser-guided spectroscopy and satellite-based models to assess losses in canopy water content of California’s forests between 2011 and 2015. Approximately 10.6 million ha of forest containing up to 888 million large trees experienced measurable loss in canopy water content during this drought period. Severe canopy water losses of greater than 30% occurred over 1 million ha, affecting up to 58 million large trees. Our measurements exclude forests affected by fire between 2011 and 2015. If drought conditions continue or reoccur, even with temporary reprieves such as El Niño, we predict substantial future forest change.

Concepts: Water, Hydrology, Aquifer, Forest ecology, Irrigation, Rainforest, Trees, Names of large numbers


Groundwater provides a reliable tap to sustain agricultural production, yet persistent aquifer depletion threatens future sustainability. The High Plains Aquifer supplies 30% of the nation’s irrigated groundwater, and the Kansas portion supports the congressional district with the highest market value for agriculture in the nation. We project groundwater declines to assess when the study area might run out of water, and comprehensively forecast the impacts of reduced pumping on corn and cattle production. So far, 30% of the groundwater has been pumped and another 39% will be depleted over the next 50 y given existing trends. Recharge supplies 15% of current pumping and would take an average of 500-1,300 y to completely refill a depleted aquifer. Significant declines in the region’s pumping rates will occur over the next 15-20 y given current trends, yet irrigated agricultural production might increase through 2040 because of projected increases in water use efficiencies in corn production. Water use reductions of 20% today would cut agricultural production to the levels of 15-20 y ago, the time of peak agricultural production would extend to the 2070s, and production beyond 2070 would significantly exceed that projected without reduced pumping. Scenarios evaluate incremental reductions of current pumping by 20-80%, the latter rate approaching natural recharge. Findings substantiate that saving more water today would result in increased net production due to projected future increases in crop water use efficiencies. Society has an opportunity now to make changes with tremendous implications for future sustainability and livability.

Concepts: Agriculture, Water, Aquifer, Groundwater, Irrigation, Sustainability, Great Plains, Ogallala Aquifer


While recent findings based on satellite records indicate a positive trend in vegetation greenness over global drylands, the reasons remain elusive. We hypothesize that enhanced levels of atmospheric CO2 play an important role in the observed greening through the CO2 effect on plant water savings and consequent available soil water increases. Meta-analytic techniques were used to compare soil water content under ambient and elevated CO2 treatments across a range of climate regimes, vegetation types, soil textures and land management practices. Based on 1705 field measurements from 21 distinct sites, a consistent and statistically significant increase in the availability of soil water (11%) was observed under elevated CO2 treatments in both drylands and non-drylands, with a statistically stronger response over drylands (17% vs. 9%). Given the inherent water limitation in drylands, it is suggested that the additional soil water availability is a likely driver of observed increases in vegetation greenness.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Scientific method, Carbon dioxide, Water, Aquifer, Irrigation, Water content, Water activity


Recent hydrological modelling and Earth observations have located and quantified alarming rates of groundwater depletion worldwide. This depletion is primarily due to water withdrawals for irrigation, but its connection with the main driver of irrigation, global food consumption, has not yet been explored. Here we show that approximately eleven per cent of non-renewable groundwater use for irrigation is embedded in international food trade, of which two-thirds are exported by Pakistan, the USA and India alone. Our quantification of groundwater depletion embedded in the world’s food trade is based on a combination of global, crop-specific estimates of non-renewable groundwater abstraction and international food trade data. A vast majority of the world’s population lives in countries sourcing nearly all their staple crop imports from partners who deplete groundwater to produce these crops, highlighting risks for global food and water security. Some countries, such as the USA, Mexico, Iran and China, are particularly exposed to these risks because they both produce and import food irrigated from rapidly depleting aquifers. Our results could help to improve the sustainability of global food production and groundwater resource management by identifying priority regions and agricultural products at risk as well as the end consumers of these products.

Concepts: Agriculture, Water, United States, Food, Aquifer, Groundwater, Irrigation, International trade


Groundwater is a life-sustaining resource that supplies water to billions of people, plays a central part in irrigated agriculture and influences the health of many ecosystems. Most assessments of global water resources have focused on surface water, but unsustainable depletion of groundwater has recently been documented on both regional and global scales. It remains unclear how the rate of global groundwater depletion compares to the rate of natural renewal and the supply needed to support ecosystems. Here we define the groundwater footprint (the area required to sustain groundwater use and groundwater-dependent ecosystem services) and show that humans are overexploiting groundwater in many large aquifers that are critical to agriculture, especially in Asia and North America. We estimate that the size of the global groundwater footprint is currently about 3.5 times the actual area of aquifers and that about 1.7 billion people live in areas where groundwater resources and/or groundwater-dependent ecosystems are under threat. That said, 80 per cent of aquifers have a groundwater footprint that is less than their area, meaning that the net global value is driven by a few heavily overexploited aquifers. The groundwater footprint is the first tool suitable for consistently evaluating the use, renewal and ecosystem requirements of groundwater at an aquifer scale. It can be combined with the water footprint and virtual water calculations, and be used to assess the potential for increasing agricultural yields with renewable groundwaterref. The method could be modified to evaluate other resources with renewal rates that are slow and spatially heterogeneous, such as fisheries, forestry or soil.

Concepts: Agriculture, Water, Hydrology, Aquifer, Groundwater, Irrigation, Water supply, Deficit irrigation


Aquifer overexploitation could significantly impact crop production in the United States because 60% of irrigation relies on groundwater. Groundwater depletion in the irrigated High Plains and California Central Valley accounts for ~50% of groundwater depletion in the United States since 1900. A newly developed High Plains recharge map shows that high recharge in the northern High Plains results in sustainable pumpage, whereas lower recharge in the central and southern High Plains has resulted in focused depletion of 330 km(3) of fossil groundwater, mostly recharged during the past 13,000 y. Depletion is highly localized with about a third of depletion occurring in 4% of the High Plains land area. Extrapolation of the current depletion rate suggests that 35% of the southern High Plains will be unable to support irrigation within the next 30 y. Reducing irrigation withdrawals could extend the lifespan of the aquifer but would not result in sustainable management of this fossil groundwater. The Central Valley is a more dynamic, engineered system, with north/south diversions of surface water since the 1950s contributing to ~7× higher recharge. However, these diversions are regulated because of impacts on endangered species. A newly developed Central Valley Hydrologic Model shows that groundwater depletion since the 1960s, totaling 80 km(3), occurs mostly in the south (Tulare Basin) and primarily during droughts. Increasing water storage through artificial recharge of excess surface water in aquifers by up to 3 km(3) shows promise for coping with droughts and improving sustainability of groundwater resources in the Central Valley.

Concepts: Agriculture, Water, Hydrology, Aquifer, Groundwater, Irrigation, Great Plains, Water table