Letter

Satellite-based estimates of groundwater depletion in India

  • Nature volume 460, pages 9991002 (20 August 2009)
  • doi:10.1038/nature08238
  • Download Citation
Received:
Accepted:
Published:

Subjects

Abstract

Groundwater is a primary source of fresh water in many parts of the world. Some regions are becoming overly dependent on it, consuming groundwater faster than it is naturally replenished and causing water tables to decline unremittingly1. Indirect evidence suggests that this is the case in northwest India2, but there has been no regional assessment of the rate of groundwater depletion. Here we use terrestrial water storage-change observations from the NASA Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites3 and simulated soil-water variations from a data-integrating hydrological modelling system4 to show that groundwater is being depleted at a mean rate of 4.0 ± 1.0 cm yr-1 equivalent height of water (17.7 ± 4.5 km3 yr-1) over the Indian states of Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana (including Delhi). During our study period of August 2002 to October 2008, groundwater depletion was equivalent to a net loss of 109 km3 of water, which is double the capacity of India’s largest surface-water reservoir. Annual rainfall was close to normal throughout the period and we demonstrate that the other terrestrial water storage components (soil moisture, surface waters, snow, glaciers and biomass) did not contribute significantly to the observed decline in total water levels. Although our observational record is brief, the available evidence suggests that unsustainable consumption of groundwater for irrigation and other anthropogenic uses is likely to be the cause. If measures are not taken soon to ensure sustainable groundwater usage, the consequences for the 114,000,000 residents of the region may include a reduction of agricultural output and shortages of potable water, leading to extensive socioeconomic stresses.

  • Subscribe to Nature for full access:

    $199

    Subscribe

Additional access options:

Already a subscriber?  Log in  now or  Register  for online access.

References

  1. 1.

    in Water in Crisis: A Guide to the World’s Freshwater Resources (ed. Gleick, P. H.) 56–66 (Oxford Univ. Press, 1993)

  2. 2.

    Central. Ground Water Board. Dynamic Ground Water Resources of India (as on March 2004) (Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India, 2006)

  3. 3.

    , , , & GRACE measurements of mass variability in the Earth system. Science 305, 503–505 (2004)

  4. 4.

    et al. The Global Land Data Assimilation System. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 85, 381–394 (2004)

  5. 5.

    , & Relations between precipitation and shallow groundwater in Illinois. J. Clim. 1, 1239–1250 (1988)

  6. 6.

    et al. One million year old groundwater in the Sahara revealed by krypton-81 and chlorine-36. Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, L05503 (2004)

  7. 7.

    & Entering the policy debate: an economic evaluation of groundwater policy in flux. Wat. Resour. Res. 40 10.1029/2003WR002737 (2004)

  8. 8.

    , & Water resources of India. Curr. Sci. 89, 794–811 (2005)

  9. 9.

    India’s Water Economy: Bracing for a Turbulent Future. Report No. 34750-IN, viii–xi (World Bank, 2005)

  10. 10.

    , , , & Water resources and climate change: an Indian perspective. Curr. Sci. 90, 1610–1626 (2006)

  11. 11.

    , & Transboundary Aquifers in Asia with Special Emphasis to China 10–18 (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2006)

  12. 12.

    Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India. Central Ground Water Authority〉 (2009)

  13. 13.

    , , & Remote sensing of groundwater storage changes in Illinois using the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE). Wat. Resour. Res. 42 10.1029/2006WR005374 (2006)

  14. 14.

    et al. Estimating ground water storage changes in the Mississippi River basin (USA) using GRACE. Hydrogeol. J. 15 10.1007/s10040-006-0103-7 (2007)

  15. 15.

    et al. The TRMM Multisatellite Precipitation Analysis (TMPA): quasi-global, multiyear, combined-sensor precipitation estimates at fine scales. J. Hydrometeorol. 8, 38–55 (2007)

  16. 16.

    & Global precipitation: a 17-year monthly analysis based on gauge observations, satellite estimates, and numerical model outputs. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 78, 2539–2558 (1997)

  17. 17.

    User Guide to ECMWF Forecast Products. Meteorological Bulletin M3.2 (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, 2001)

  18. 18.

    , , , & Global biomass variation and its geodynamic effects, 1982–1998. Earth Interact. 9, 1–19 (2005)

  19. 19.

    & Glaciers and the Changing Earth System: A 2004 Snapshot. Occasional Paper No. 58 (Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, 2005)

  20. 20.

    Central. Water Commission, Government of India. National Register of Large Dams – 2002 (Government of India, 2002)

  21. 21.

    , & New district-level maps of rice cropping in India: a foundation for scientific input into policy. Field Crops Res. 98 10.1016/j.fcr.2006.01.004 (2006)

  22. 22.

    & An analysis of terrestrial water storage variations in Illinois with implications for the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE). Wat. Resour. Res. 37, 1327–1340 (2001)

  23. 23.

    et al. Development and validation of the global map of irrigation areas. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 9, 535–547 (2005)

  24. 24.

    & Post-processing removal of correlated errors in GRACE data. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33 10.1029/2005GL025285 (2006)

  25. 25.

    , & The accuracy of GRACE mass estimates. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33 10.1029/2005GL025305 (2006)

  26. 26.

    & Multi-sensor analysis of water storage variations of the Caspian Sea. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34 10.1029/2007GL030733 (2007)

  27. 27.

    et al. Sensitivity of land surface simulations to model physics, land characteristics, and forcings, at four CEOP Sites. J. Meteorol. Soc. Jpn 87A, 187–204 (2007)

  28. 28.

    & Acceleration of Greenland ice mass loss in spring 2004. Nature 443, 329–331 (2006)

  29. 29.

    & Variations in the Earth’s oblateness during the past 28 years. J. Geophys. Res. 109, B09402 (2004)

  30. 30.

    , & Inference of mantle viscosity from GRACE and relative sea level data. Geophys. J. Int. 171, 497–508 (2006)

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank H. K. Beaudoing for assistance in preparing the GLDAS time series. This research was funded by grants from NASA’s Solid Earth and Natural Hazards Program, Terrestrial Hydrology Program and Cryospheric Science Program.

Author Contributions M.R. and J.S.F. performed background research and designed the study. I.V. led the GRACE data analysis. M.R. and I.V. wrote the manuscript and prepared the figures. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Hydrological Sciences Branch, Code 614.3, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771, USA

    • Matthew Rodell
  2. Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, California 92697-3100, USA

    • Isabella Velicogna
    •  & James S. Famiglietti
  3. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91109-8099, USA

    • Isabella Velicogna
  4. Department of Physics, University of Udine, 208 Via delle Scienze, 33100 Udine, Italy

    • Isabella Velicogna

Authors

  1. Search for Matthew Rodell in:

  2. Search for Isabella Velicogna in:

  3. Search for James S. Famiglietti in:

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Matthew Rodell.

The GRACE data used here were produced by the Center for Space Research, University of Texas at Austin, and are available from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Physical Oceanography Distributed Active Archive Center (http://podaac.jpl.nasa.gov/index.html). GLDAS data are available from the Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center (http://disc.gsfc.nasa.gov/hydrology).

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.