Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Groundwater


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


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


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


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


Chloride concentrations in northern U.S. included in this study have increased substantially over time with average concentrations approximately doubling from 1990 to 2011, outpacing the rate of urbanization in the northern U.S. Historical data were examined for 30 monitoring sites on 19 streams that had chloride concentration and flow records of 18 to 49years. Chloride concentrations in most studied streams increased in all seasons (13 of 19 in all seasons; 16 of 19 during winter); maximum concentrations occurred during winter. Increasing concentrations during non-deicing periods suggest that chloride was stored in hydrologic reservoirs, such as the shallow groundwater system, during the winter and slowly released in baseflow throughout the year. Streamflow dependency was also observed with chloride concentrations increasing as streamflow decreased, a result of dilution during rainfall- and snowmelt-induced high-flow periods. The influence of chloride on aquatic life increased with time; 29% of sites studied exceeded the concentration for the USEPA chronic water quality criteria of 230mg/L by an average of more than 100 individual days per year during 2006-2011. The rapid rate of chloride concentration increase in these streams is likely due to a combination of possible increased road salt application rates, increased baseline concentrations, and greater snowfall in the Midwestern U.S. during the latter portion of the study period.

Concepts: Time, Water, Concentration, Water pollution, Hydrology, Groundwater, Season, Salt


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


Detection of sodium-salt-rich ice grains emitted from the plume of the Saturnian moon Enceladus suggests that the grains formed as frozen droplets from a liquid water reservoir that is, or has been, in contact with rock. Gravitational field measurements suggest a regional south polar subsurface ocean of about 10 kilometres thickness located beneath an ice crust 30 to 40 kilometres thick. These findings imply rock-water interactions in regions surrounding the core of Enceladus. The resulting chemical ‘footprints’ are expected to be preserved in the liquid and subsequently transported upwards to the near-surface plume sources, where they eventually would be ejected and could be measured by a spacecraft. Here we report an analysis of silicon-rich, nanometre-sized dust particles (so-called stream particles) that stand out from the water-ice-dominated objects characteristic of Saturn. We interpret these grains as nanometre-sized SiO2 (silica) particles, initially embedded in icy grains emitted from Enceladus' subsurface waters and released by sputter erosion in Saturn’s E ring. The composition and the limited size range (2 to 8 nanometres in radius) of stream particles indicate ongoing high-temperature (>90 °C) hydrothermal reactions associated with global-scale geothermal activity that quickly transports hydrothermal products from the ocean floor at a depth of at least 40 kilometres up to the plume of Enceladus.

Concepts: Water, Moon, Groundwater, Liquid, Surface tension, Ocean, Geyser, Enceladus


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


In the last decade, more than 22 million ha of land have been contracted to large-scale land acquisitions in Africa, leading to increased pressures, competition, and conflicts over freshwater resources. Currently, 3% of contracted land is in production, for which we model site-specific water demands to indicate where freshwater appropriation might pose high socioenvironmental challenges. We use the dynamic global vegetation model Lund-Potsdam-Jena managed Land to simulate green (precipitation stored in soils and consumed by plants through evapotranspiration) and blue (extracted from rivers, lakes, aquifers, and dams) water demand and crop yields for seven irrigation scenarios, and compare these data with two baseline scenarios of staple crops representing previous water demand. We find that most land acquisitions are planted with crops that demand large volumes of water (>9,000 m(3)⋅ha(-1)) like sugarcane, jatropha, and eucalyptus, and that staple crops have lower water requirements (<7,000 m(3)⋅ha(-1)). Blue water demand varies with irrigation system, crop choice, and climate. Even if the most efficient irrigation systems were implemented, 18% of the land acquisitions, totaling 91,000 ha, would still require more than 50% of water from blue water sources. These hotspots indicate areas at risk for transgressing regional constraints for freshwater use as a result of overconsumption of blue water, where socioenvironmental systems might face increased conflicts and tensions over water resources.

Concepts: Agriculture, Water, Aquifer, Groundwater, Irrigation, Freshwater, Water resources, Deficit irrigation


The lunar semidiurnal influence is already known for tidal rivers. The moon also influences inland rivers at a monthly scale through precipitation. We show that, for some non-tidal rivers, with special geological conditions, the lunar semidiurnal tidal oscillation can be detected. The moon has semidiurnal tidal influence on groundwater, which will then export it to streamflow. Long time series with high frequency measurements were analysed by using standard wavelet analysis techniques. The lunar semidiurnal signal explains the daily double-peaked river level evolution of inland gauges. It is stronger where springs with high discharge occur, especially in the area of Edwards-Trinity and Great Artesian Basin aquifers and in areas with dolomite/limestone strata. The average maximum semidiurnal peaks range between 0.002 and 0.1 m. This secondary effect of the earth tides has important implications in predicting high resolution hydrographs, in the water cycle of wetlands and in water management.

Concepts: Water, Earth, Precipitation, Moon, Hydrology, Water cycle, Groundwater, Tide