Satellites Reveal Widespread Decline in Global Lake Water Storage

19 May 2023


A study titled “Satellites reveal widespread decline in global lake water storage” revealed that more than half of large lakes and reservoirs across the world are drying up. Climate change and human activities are blamed for this crisis.

The Extent of Freshwater Reserves

Lakes play a vital role in preserving the world’s freshwater reserves. Holding an astonishing 87% of the world’s liquid surface fresh water, these bodies are essential for various ecological systems and human sustenance. However, the study underscores the severity of the situation, indicating that a substantial number of these lakes are facing alarming volume loss.

Contributing Factors to Volume Loss

The study identifies three main factors that contribute to the net volume loss in natural lakes. Firstly, global warming emerges as a significant driver of lake shrinkage. As temperatures rise, the increased heat and evaporation rates accelerate the reduction of water volume. Secondly, the growing demand for water consumption by human activities exacerbates the problem, putting additional strain on these already vulnerable bodies of water. Lastly, sedimentation emerges as the dominant reason for storage losses in reservoirs, which impacts their overall capacity to hold water effectively.

Statistically Significant Storage Declines

Out of the 1972 largest global lakes examined in the study, an alarming 53% showed statistically significant storage declines over the period of 1992-2020. This finding indicates that the issue of drying lakes is not isolated but rather a widespread global concern. The decline in water storage poses a direct threat to the ecosystems and communities that depend on these lakes for various purposes, including drinking water, irrigation, and recreational activities.

Human Impact and Water Security

One-quarter, or 25%, of the world’s population resides in a basin of a drying lake, emphasizing the urgency of addressing this issue. Incorporating climate change and sedimentation impacts into sustainable water resources management becomes paramount. The study’s authors stress the importance of considering these factors to ensure the availability and accessibility of water resources for present and future generations.

Magnitude of Water Loss

During the study period, an astonishing 603 cubic kilometers of water were lost from lakes and reservoirs, equating to 17 times the volume of water in Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States. These staggering numbers emphasize the scale of the problem and the urgent need for intervention.


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