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There’s Water Under the Ocean Floor: Should We Pump It Out?

There’s Water Under the Ocean Floor: Should We Pump It Out?

We think of nothing being deeper than the bottom of the ocean. Scientists have discovered, however, that much lies beneath it. Most recently, they’ve found that there are major reserves of fresh water beneath the ocean, many kilometers out to sea. It’s so much low-salinity water – half a million cubic kilometers — that there’s already talk about using the water to prevent a “global water crisis” among many coastal cities in Australia, China, North America and South Africa.

As much as the water is needed, could demand for it set off a rush of offshore drilling with potentially drastic repercussions for the fragile marine ecosystems at the ocean’s bottom?

There’s no question that there’s an urgent need for water around the world. Today, almost half of the global population doesn’t have access to enough water, according to U.N. Water. By 2030, it’s predicted that 47 percent of the population will be living in areas of high water stress.

According to a new study in the December 5 Nature by Australian scientists, the huge freshwater reserves are located underneath the seabed on continental shelves around the world. ”The volume of this water resource is a hundred times greater than the amount we’ve extracted from the Earth’s sub-surface in the past century since 1900,” comments the study’s lead author, Vincent Post of the National Center for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT) and the School of the Environment at Flinders University in Australia. Scientists had known there was freshwater beneath the seafloor but not that there was so much and that it was so common.

It was hundreds of thousands of years ago that the reserves were formed, when the average sea level was far lower than it is now and coastlines extended further out. As Post explains,

“So when it rained, the water would infiltrate into the ground and fill up the water table in areas that are nowadays under the sea.

“It happened all around the world, and when the sea level rose when ice caps started melting some 20,000 years ago, these areas were covered by the ocean.”

Layers of clay and sediment protect the subterranean aquifers from seawater.

The question remains what to do with this newfound resource. Offshore drilling is not only costly; extracting the water carries the risk of contaminating the reserves and damaging the quality of the water. The water reserves are not renewable so whatever is done must be undertaken with exceeding care. Only if the sea level drops could they be replenished; as Post notes, that “is not likely to happen for a long time.” On the other hand, it’s possible that using these underwater aquifers could be a sustainable alternative to  building large new dams on land.

As Ward Sanford, a United States Geological Survey hydrologist, explains to Al Jazeera, water from the reserves would still have to undergo some kind of processing to make it drinkable. Desalination is a possibility but could be “too costly, could kill marine life, pollute water” and be “too energy intensive.”

As U.N. Water points out, many of us are using water and other natural resources at an unsustainable rate. If everyone in the world consumed water at the same rates as the average person in North America or Europe, about 3.5 Earths would be needed. Reducing how much water we consume and using what we do responsibly are crucial.

The discovery of rare metals such as gold and manganese beneath the ocean floor has already set off a rush to gain rights to mine certain regions. The adverse effects of noise pollution from deep sea drilling on whales, dolphins and other cetaceans has been documented. Efforts to draw on underwater aquifers may well only add to this. While we certainly need to provide for the world’s needs for water — especially in view of the impact of droughts and water shortages — we should do so remembering that this essential resource is needed by many other creatures too.


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4:42AM PDT on Sep 10, 2014


4:38AM PDT on Sep 10, 2014

thanks for sharing

1:03PM PST on Feb 11, 2014

Let the oceans alone! When we mess up with nature there have always been disasters!!!

7:45PM PST on Dec 31, 2013

Leave the water as it is, where it is. Desalinate sea water instead.

1:09AM PST on Dec 24, 2013

I think the 'weapon of mass destruction' is MAN. So much for looking after and preserving the greatest gift any human could wish to receive - it seems we are only on one mission - the path of self destruction! Breeding ourselves out of existence, even though there is more than enough space of this precious planet for everyone, it is the lack of self help that is destroying the planet and governments/politicians/businesses, in their greed, controlling everyone so they can feather their ivory towers out of the plight of starving millions. Now they want to destroy the little we have left.

8:43AM PST on Dec 18, 2013

This is no way a good idea. What happens when we extract something out from underneath something else, it generally collapses.

However, I really don't get all these comments about the world being over-populated. Where are you getting your data, so called scientists?

Less than 2% of the earth's surface is populated by humans. All you have to do is get in a plane and you can fly for miles without seeing a single person, only land, land, land.

What they try to brainwash us with is information showing that TOWNS and CITIES are over-populated but not the EARTH. This information is very misleading, proof of which I have seen in the comments below.

10:35PM PST on Dec 14, 2013

Why not- we suck the life out of everything else we come in contact with.

8:16PM PST on Dec 14, 2013

Never! Leave the ocean floor and the earth alone! The planet is overpopulated. We need to limit the number of kids a family can have. If they want more then they should have to pay a huge penalty.

9:29AM PST on Dec 14, 2013

NO. I don't believe Humans can solve problems that would surely be created by messing with the structure of the Planet Earth.

2:20PM PST on Dec 13, 2013

I think we should first have to introduce population control to rid us of the problem and secondly leave the water under the sea bed alone, for the sake of that above but also bellow. who knows if and what lives in there

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