Giving Compass' Take:
- An international team of researchers found that more than half of the large lakes and reservoirs have experienced water loss since the 90s.
- How does water loss impact local communities? In what ways will climate change impact water systems in the long term?
- Learn how water scarcity will shape the 21st century.
What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
More than half of the large lakes and reservoirs on the planet have diminished since the early 1990s due to climate change and human diversion and consumption, an international team of researchers has found. The findings have implications for people who rely on their supply of freshwater for drinking, hydropower and agriculture.
The researchers looked at almost 2,000 of the largest lakes and found they are losing about 5.7 trillion gallons per year. That’s about the same amount as the entire U.S. used in 2015, or 17 times the volume of the biggest reservoir in the U.S., Nevada’s Lake Mead, between 1992 and 2020, the study said.
“More than half of the decline is primarily attributable to human consumption or indirect human signals through climate warming,” said lead author of the study Fangfang Yao, a University of Colorado Boulder climate scientist, as The Associated Press reported.
According to the study, more water is evaporating due to warmer air associated with global heating, and people are diverting an enormous amount of water, so even lakes in areas with more rainfall continue to shrink.
This includes some of the most important sources of freshwater on Earth, including South America’s Lake Titicaca and the Caspian Sea, reported Reuters.
The study, “Satellites reveal widespread decline in global lake water storage,” was published in the journal Science.
Evaporation leads to more water in the atmosphere that can become rain or snow, but “may end up falling as rain far away, outside the basin where it evaporated or even over the ocean,” said Ben Livneh, a University of Colorado hydrologist and co-author of the study, as The Associated Press reported.
Yao said human consumption and climate warming were responsible for 56 percent of the water decline, but that warming made up “the larger share of that,” reported Reuters.
The research team used satellite images along with hydrological and climate models to assess the lakes. They found that 53 percent of them had shrunk between 1992 and 2020 due to rising temperatures, excessive human use, rainfall and runoff changes and sedimentation.
“This global-scale attribution of [lake water shortage] trends has important implications for water resources management, particularly given that up to 2.0 billion people (one-quarter of the global population in 2023) reside in basins with large water bodies experiencing significant water storage losses,” the authors wrote in the study.
Read the full article about water loss due to climate change by Cristen Hemingway Jaynes at EcoWatch.