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As the Earth experiences rising temperatures, a new NASA study utilizing NASA's twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites found that the Middle East has lost the water equivalent of the Dead Sea over just seven years. NASA hopes that the study will prompt people to recognize the harmful effects of quickly depleting groundwater.
"GRACE data show an alarming rate of decrease in total water storage in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which currently have the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India," said Jay Famiglietti, lead investigator of the study and a hydrologist and professor at UC Irvine said in a NASA press release.
NASA scientists found that areas in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. lost 117 million acre feet (144 cubic kilometers) of water from 2003-2010. It is estimated that 60 percent of this loss was the result of pumping from underground reservoirs
"The rate was especially striking after the 2007 drought. Meanwhile, demand for freshwater continues to rise, and the region does not coordinate its water management because of different interpretations of international laws," Famiglietti explained.
While water was lost to other natural causes, it's the human-induced pumping that's draining groundwater reserves and has many worried. During droughts, surface water is hard to come by, and governments often tap into groundwater reserves. For instance, soon after the 2007 drought, Iraq ended up drilling around 1,000 well. If the region is to not run out of water, scientists are warning that careful attention must be paid to the way the environment is treated.
"The Middle East just does not have that much water to begin with, and it's a part of the world that will be experiencing less rainfall with climate change," Famiglietti warned. "Those dry areas are getting dryer. The Middle East and the world's other arid regions need to manage available water resources as best they can."
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The full study will be published on Feb. 15 in the journal Water Resources Research.