Following last summer’s historic drought, new analysis of satellite data indicates that groundwater levels in Europe are falling at an alarmingly fast rate. Steadily rising global temperatures could spell real disaster for freshwater supplies around the world, but when it comes to groundwater reserves, the situation in Europe seems particularly alarming. Nearly one-third of the world’s total freshwater resources are stored in groundwater, while in the 27 EU member states, groundwater provides approx. 65% of drinking water and approx. 25% of irrigation water in agriculture.

Report on groundwater in Europe

Although drought is forming on the surface, what we can’t see is also at risk.

A new report from the University of Saskatchewan’s Global Water Security Institute in Canada, the result of a collaboration between the United States and Germany to identify differences in freshwater reserves on the European continent, has revealed that Europe is experiencing steady groundwater depletion.

Analysis of studies over the past 20 years shows that each year most aquifers lose more water than they recover. Despite exceptions, such as. Scandinavia, most of the continent loses far more groundwater annually than is replaced by rainfall and other sources of recharge.

Europe loses 84 gigatons of groundwater a year

The research, which began in 2002. allow scientists to estimate water loss due to climate change. Europe loses about 84 gigatons of water annually (1 gigaton equals 1 billion tons). According to the researchers, this is an alarming indicator.

Many of these losses are the result of excessive groundwater abstraction, which is largely due to increased public and agricultural demand. Climate change and excessive aquifer depletion are linked. The intensifying drought is causing agriculture, industry and cities to obtain water from deeper and deeper intakes, and aquifers are no longer able to replenish themselves, despite the return of rain. The process of depletion intensifies mainly in the spring and summer months, when the availability of surface water is limited, a situation that particularly affects southern Europe. This drives competition among different sectors and industries, causing a shift from surface water withdrawals to groundwater withdrawals.

The problem of seasonal water availability is becoming an increasing concern, even though overall abstraction in the EU is declining. Analyses by the European Environment Agency show that although the total amount of abstraction from surface and groundwater from 2000 to 2019 fell by 15%, the relative contribution of groundwater to this total increased from 19% to 23%. Therefore, it is necessary to implement further measures to increase the efficiency of water use and consumption, as well as climate change adaptation measures.

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