Global Water Abstraction Has Altered The Earth’s Spin, Study Reveals
One of the big issues leading to water stress and scarcity around the world is over-abstraction of freshwater resources.
Of course, abstraction is a necessary practice, since water is absolutely essential to life, but problems start to arise when resources are used more quickly than they’re able to replenish themselves naturally through the water cycle, which then leads to shortages and difficulties meeting demand.
Simply put, water abstraction refers to the practice of extracting water from natural sources, such as aquifers far below ground, lakes, rivers, streams and springs.
The most common use for abstracted water is agriculture (which uses approximately 70 per cent of all extracted resources), but other applications include industrial uses, drinking water supplies, water treatment and so on.
It’s expected that water abstraction rates will have to increase in line with population growth as time goes on, with global population figures predicted to reach over nine billion come 2050, which has serious implications for water stress and scarcity around the world.
However, there could be other perhaps less obvious consequences if more sustainable use of water isn’t prioritised on a global scale.
New research from Seoul National University, published in the AGU Geophysical Research Letters journal, has just revealed that so much groundwater has been pumped to the surface over the years that we’ve actually succeeded in altering the earth’s spin.
Scientists have discovered that because of the amount of water that has been shifted, the earth tilted almost 80cm east between 1993 and 2010 alone.
Interestingly, the ability of water to change the rotation of the earth was actually discovered back in 2016 but this is the first time that the contribution of groundwater to these changes has been fully explored.
The work involved modelling the observed changes in the movement of water and the drift of the rotational pole, first taking into account only glaciers and ice sheets, and then introducing various scenarios including groundwater redistribution.
It was also found that groundwater location has an impact on how much it can change polar drift. For example, most redistributed water was found in western North America and north-western India, both at mid-latitudes. This was found to have a bigger impact on the rotational pole.
Commenting on the study, Surendra Adhikari (research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory), said: “This is a nice contribution and an important documentation for sure. They’ve quantified the role of groundwater pumping on polar motion and it’s pretty significant.”
The expert, who wasn’t involved in the study, went on to say that there’s no risk of changes relating to groundwater abstraction shifting the seasons, since the earth’s rotational pole typically changes by several metres within a year or so, but polar drift could have an impact on climate within geologic time scales.
Want to find out why water efficiency is important? Get in touch with H2o Building Services today to see how we can help.