It’s easy to see how overwatering our crops would deplete the groundwater supply and cause land nearby to sink, but could it cause sea level to rise on a global scale? Yes, according to a model published in Nature Geosciences, that attributes 42% of the sea-level rise over the past half century to groundwater use.
Ninety percent of readily available freshwater is underground, and water used for drinking or crop irrigation must, of course, be brought above ground. That water then evaporates or flows into rivers, entering the water cycle and eventually the oceans, making them deeper.
A few days ago, we wrote about a remarkable graphic released by the USGS, showing all the water on Earth—freshwater, saltwater, water vapor, water in plants and animals; all of it—rolled into a sphere.
That sphere was only 860 miles in diameter, fitting comfortably between Salt Lake City and Topeka, Kansas, on a map. It was striking, especially considering that the water available for humans use in our daily lives is only a very small fraction of that; the vast majority of the Earth’s water is saltwater, and most of the freshwater is tied up in glaciers.
How big would a sphere of just the freshwater available to humans be? Reader Jay Kimball of 8020Vision, his interest piqued, went ahead and made such a graphic:
That sphere—the sphere representing the freshwater available to humans—has a diameter of just 170 miles. Head to his blog to see the math.