Once the fourth largest lake in the world, Central Asia’s shrinking Aral Sea has reached a new low, thanks to decades-old water diversions for irrigation and a more recent drought. Satellite imagery released this week by NASA shows that the eastern basin of the freshwater body is now completely dry.
In 2000 (left), Asia’s Aral Sea had already shrunk to a fraction of its 1960 extent (black line). Further irrigation and dry conditions in 2014 (right) caused the sea’s eastern lobe to completely dry up for the first time in 600 years.
“It is likely the first time it has completely dried in 600 years, since medieval desiccation associated with diversion of Amu Darya [river] to the Caspian Sea,” Philip Micklin, an Aral Sea expert and a geographer emeritus from Western Michigan University, in Kalamazoo, told NASA about the sea’s eastern basin. (See “Photos: Dried Up Aral Sea Aftermath.”) Read more
A chemical spill that left 300,000 residents of Charleston, West Virginia, without tap water last month is raising new concerns about the ability of the United States to maintain its high quality of drinking water.
While the U.S. has one of the safest water supplies in the world, experts say the Charleston contamination with a coal-washing chemical shows how quickly the trust that most Americans place in their drinking water can be shattered.
“We often don’t think about where our water comes from,” said Steve Fleischli, director and senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Water Program in Los Angeles. “Does it come from a nearby river or a lake, intermittent streams, isolated wetlands, or an aquifer? Yes, you may have a water treatment plant, but if your water source is not protected, people face a real risk.” Read more
But it’s more widely known as “rock snot”—mats of algae carpeting the bottoms of some rivers and lakes—and it’s quickly spreading around the globe, possibly because of climate change, a new study says.
So far, scientists say its effects on the environment are unknown, though they are concerned specifically about the impact on salmon.
The mats can cover up to 75 percent of a river bottom in some places. (See a striking picture of didymo coating a river bottom.)
As the algae spread worldwide in recent decades, including to New Zealand, South America, and the United States, scientists theorized that it was an invasive organism whose cells were hitchhiking with people as they enjoyed the outdoors.
Not so, found Joshua Kurek, a biologist at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, and his colleagues. Read more
A Clean Water Crisis
The water you drink today has likely been around in one form or another since dinosaurs roamed the Earth, hundreds of millions of years ago.
While the amount of freshwater on the planet has remained fairly constant over time—continually recycled through the atmosphere and back into our cups—the population has exploded. This means that every year competition for a clean, copious supply of water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and sustaining life intensifies.
Water scarcity is an abstract concept to many and a stark reality for others. It is the result of myriad environmental, political, economic, and social forces. Read more
Yesterday, nations went to war for land. Today, our conflicts involve energy. And tomorrow, Brahma Chellaney writes, the battles will be about water. The award-winning author believes that Mark Twain was right when he said, “Whisky is for drinking, water is for fighting over.”
There is “blue water,” “green water,” even “virtual water.” But however labeled, water is the world’s single most important resource. Life is not possible without it. It will likely determine our future.
And it is becoming scarce. In the twentieth century, the world’s population grew by a factor of 3.8 and water use by nine. Today, with the number of people passing the seven billion mark, it should come as no surprise that more than half of humankind lives in water-stressed areas. That figure could increase to two-thirds during the next decade. Read more