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STIA Alumna's Work on Mideast Water Loss Catches Media Attention

Researchers at the University of California-Irvine have determined that the Tigris-Euphrates river basin in the Middle East lost groundwater equivalent to the entire Dead Sea between 2003 and 2010.

A recent SFS graduate, Katalyn Voss (F'11 - STIA), is a lead author of a paper on the issue, which was the basis of her senior thesis at Georgetown.

Unable to conduct measurements on the ground in the politically unstable region, UC Irvine scientists and colleagues used data from space to uncover the extent of the problem. They took measurements from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites, and found that between 2003 and 2010, the four nations lost 144 cubic kilometers (117 million acre feet) of water – nearly equivalent to all the water in the Dead Sea. The depletion was especially striking after a drought struck the area in 2007. Researchers attribute the bulk of it – about 60 percent – to pumping of water from underground reservoirs.

They concluded that the Tigris-Euphrates watershed is drying up at a pace second only to that in India. “This rate is among the largest liquid freshwater losses on the continents,” the scientists report in a paper to be published online Feb. 15 in Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Water management is a complex issue in the Middle East, “a region that is dealing with limited water resources and competing stakeholders,” said Katalyn Voss, lead author and a water policy fellow with the University of California’s Center for Hydrologic Modeling in Irvine.

Voss appeared on Huffington Post Live to discuss the alarming findings (see video below).


The New York Times Dot Earth blog also reported on the discovery.

Data gathered between 2003 and 2009 show the seasonal recharge of the region’s aquifers...but then [they show] the onset of a potent drought in 2007 followed by a persistent big drop in water amounts, 60 percent of which is ascribed to unsustainable rates of pumping.... [The study's] authors are doing a "water diplomacy" tour to brief officials in the region.

The findings were published in Water Resources Research.

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