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Concerning satellite images reveal ceaseless issue impacting over half of the world’s bodies of water — here’s what you need to know

“[The] findings underscore the importance of better water management to protect essential … services.”

"[The] findings underscore the importance of better water management to protect essential ... services."

Photo Credit: iStock

A 2023 study showed that more than half of the world’s large bodies of water are drying up.

Climate change and human consumption are the main drivers,” Axios reported.

What happened? 

Researchers examined satellite photos, climate data, and hydrologic models to find that 53% of the globe’s 1,972 largest lakes and reservoirs experienced “storage declines” from 1992 to 2020.

The scientists noted lakes hold 87% of the planet’s surface fresh water, and the 250,000 images they studied included 95% of the water storage on Earth, Newser reported.

“The net volume loss in natural lakes is largely attributable to climate warming, increasing evaporative demand, and human water consumption, whereas sedimentation dominates storage losses in reservoirs,” the authors wrote in Science in May, estimating 25% of people — or nearly 2 billion — live in a basin of a drying lake.

Why is this important?

The problem was highlighted when Peru and Bolivia’s Lake Titicaca reached dire levels of water loss “after an unprecedented winter heat wave,” CNN reported in September.

The highest navigable lake in the world at 12,507 feet and South America’s largest lake, Titicaca is home to the Indigenous Aymara, Quechua, and Uros people. (The Uros live in the lake, using totora reeds to build boats, buildings, and islands.)

The study showed Lake Titicaca loses 120 million metric tons of water per year, which compounds the problems of overfishing and pollution that impact the 3 million people who rely on the lake to make a living, per CNN. Agriculture and tourism have also been affected.

The drop was caused mainly by changes in rainfall and runoff, Newser noted, and CNN pointed to the lake’s high altitude and resulting exposure to solar radiation as well as a 49% decrease in precipitation from August 2022 to March 2023, which includes the rainy season.

What can be done?

The “findings underscore the importance of better water management to protect essential ecosystem services such as freshwater storage, food supply, waterbird habitat, cycling of pollutants and nutrients, and recreation,” according to the study.

It’s a worldwide problem. The Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan is all but gone, transforming from lake to desert. The Great Salt Lake has shrunk so much that conservationists sued Utah state officials for mismanaging the water supply of the West’s largest natural lake.

On the other hand, Costa Rica, for one, has shown the Earth’s ability to bounce back from human-caused environmental problems. By 1987, it had lost almost half its canopy, but a 1996 law to prevent further deforestation helped foster an incredible recovery.

Essentially, trees can cool ecosystems and increase precipitation, creating a positive feedback loop in the water cycle.

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