Half of world’s largest reservoirs and lakes losing water: Study

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In 2017, Bolivia’s Oruro Department’s climate-dried lake Poopo had boats on it. [File: David Mercado/Reuters]

A recent study has revealed that over 50% of the world’s major lakes and reservoirs have experienced a significant decrease in size since the early 1990s. This alarming trend is primarily attributed to the effects of climate change, which has raised concerns about the availability of water for crucial sectors such as agriculture, hydropower, and human consumption.

On Thursday, a group of global researchers disclosed that a number of critical freshwater reservoirs, including the Caspian Sea situated between Europe and Asia, and South America’s Lake Titicaca, have experienced a collective water loss of roughly 22 gigatonnes per annum for almost thirty years.

The volume in question is approximately 17 times greater than that of the largest reservoir in the United States, namely Lake Mead.

According to a recent publication in the esteemed journal Science, human activities that are not sustainable have resulted in the desiccation of several lakes, including the Aral Sea in Central Asia and the Dead Sea in the Middle East. Additionally, lakes in Afghanistan, Egypt, and Mongolia have been adversely affected by elevated temperatures, which can exacerbate water loss to the atmosphere.

In a significant development, it has been observed that water levels in approximately 25% of the lakes have surged. This phenomenon can be attributed to the construction of dams in far-flung regions, particularly in the Inner Tibetan Plateau.

Despite covering only 3 percent of the Earth’s surface, natural lakes and dams serve as crucial reservoirs for approximately 87 percent of the planet’s freshwater supply. The report relied on satellite imagery data gathered over a period spanning from 1992 to 2020.

After severe drought in 2022, Lake Garda water level plummeted drastically, causing rocks to emerge surrounding Sirmione town.

According to Fangfang Yao, a surface hydrologist at the University of Virginia who spearheaded the research, 56% of the reduction in natural lakes was influenced by climate change and human usage, with the former being the primary contributor.

According to climate scientists, it is widely believed that the planet’s arid regions will experience increased aridity due to climate change, while wet regions will become even wetter. However, a recent study has revealed that even humid areas are experiencing significant water loss.

Nearly 2,000 large lakes were evaluated by scientists through the integration of satellite measurements with climate and hydrological models. A recent study has revealed that a multitude of factors, including unsustainable human use, alterations in rainfall and run-off patterns, sedimentation, and increasing temperatures, have collectively contributed to the global decline in lake levels. The study found that over half of the world’s lakes, specifically 53 percent, have experienced a decrease in water levels between the years 1992 and 2020.

Spain has recently disclosed that the reservoirs situated in the northeastern region of Catalonia are currently at approximately 26 percent of their total capacity, following a prolonged period of drought. By way of comparison, the aforementioned statistic stood at a 58 percent capacity during the year 2022.

Lake Garda in Italy has recently experienced an uncommonly low water level when compared to the same period in 2022. According to recent observations, the water level has decreased by 50 percent in comparison to the previous year.

According to scientific experts and environmental advocates, limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) is imperative in order to avert the most devastating effects of climate change. The global temperature is presently increasing at a pace of roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius (1.9 degrees Fahrenheit).

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