Why Is Water Vanishing Worldwide? Drying Soils, Say Researchers

Dialogue & Discourse | 7 June 2019

A drought-ravaged landscape in Brazil (Susan Wang/Flickr)

Even as climate change is boosting rainfall, water supplies are waning globally. The culprit is the drying of soils, say researchers, and we’ll have to re-engineer cities and farms to cope.

by Wilson da Silva

GLOBAL STUDIES are finding a paradox: water supplies in rivers, lakes and catchment areas are declining at the same time as climate change is generating more extreme rainfall. Why?

The culprit is the drying of soils, say researchers, who suggest the world is quickly headed for a future where drought-like conditions will become the new normal in many parts of the world, especially in those regions that are already dry.

The studies — relying on the most exhaustive global analysis of rainfalland rivers — were conducted by a team led by Prof. Ashish Sharma at Australia’s University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney. They relied not on model simulations, but on actual data from 43,000 rainfall stations and 5,300 river monitoring sites in 160 countries.

“This is something that has been missed,” said Sharma, from UNSW’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, whose most recent paper appeared in Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

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