Dr. Jay Famiglietti shows exactly how groundwater is depleted — from space. Working with data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite system, Famiglietti studies significant changes to water levels in aquifers around the world.
“We didn’t go into the satellite stuff thinking we would be tracking groundwater trends,” he says. “It’s just something we thought might be there and we were paying attention to.” He focuses on some of the highest-need areas for water: the North China Plain aquifer, the Punjab region of India, and the Tigris and Euphrates river basins.
Moving forward, Famiglietti plans to integrate the climate models he created with the observational data he collects. “We’re trying to identify how the water cycle is changing,” he says, clarifying that it’s not just about groundwater depletion — it’s also about increased flooding and drought, as well as changes in precipitation and evaporation. “We’re trying to see if these things that are predicted by models are actually starting to appear in the observational record,” he says.
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