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Top Story

Scientists use satellites to measure vital underground water resources

The availability of water from underground aquifers is vital to the basic needs of more than 1.5 billion people worldwide. In recent decades, however, the over-pumping of groundwater, combined with drought, has caused some aquifers to permanently lose their essential storage capacity. With the hope of providing better tools to water resource managers to keep aquifers healthy, scientists funded by the National Science Foundation and affiliated with Arizona State University and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory are using the latest space technology to measure this precious natural resource. The researchers have focused their efforts on one of the world's largest aquifer systems, located in California's Central Valley, measuring both its groundwater volume and its storage capacity. California's Central Valley is a major agricultural hub covering an area of about 20,000 square miles. It produces more than 25 percent of U.S. agriculture, at an estimated value of $17 billion per year. The Central Valley aquifer system provides water for people and wetlands, supplying about 20 percent of the overall U.S. groundwater demand. Because of drought and the increase in the human population this aquifer serves, it is ranked one of the most stressed in the world. While past studies on water resources and drought have focused mainly on low-resolution or local scale measurements of groundwater dynamics, the research team for this study took a more high-tech route. They used the data collection features of several satellite-based Earth remote sensing techniques to obtain a more consistent and higher resolution view of the Central Valley aquifer system.

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