As the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Turkey's southeast region appears to be rich with water resources. But a new study indicates that the reality might be quite different. From a release about the study, issued by NASA and the University of California, Irvine:
Scientists at the University of California, Irvine; NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., found during a seven-year period beginning in 2003 that parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins lost 117 million acre feet (144 cubic kilometers) of total stored freshwater. That is almost the amount of water in the Dead Sea. The researchers attribute about 60 percent of the loss to pumping of groundwater from underground reservoirs.
The findings, to be published Friday, Feb. 15, in the journal Water Resources Research, are the result of one of the first comprehensive hydrological assessments of the entire Tigris-Euphrates-Western Iran region. Because obtaining ground-based data in the area is difficult, satellite data, such as those from NASA's twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, are essential. GRACE is providing a global picture of water storage trends and is invaluable when hydrologic observations are not routinely collected or shared beyond political boundaries.
"GRACE data show an alarming rate of decrease in total water storage in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which currently have the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India," said Jay Famiglietti, principal investigator of the study and a hydrologist and professor at UC Irvine. "The rate was especially striking after the 2007 drought. Meanwhile, demand for freshwater continues to rise, and the region does not coordinate its water management because of different interpretations of international laws."
Along with declining supplies, another concern for the region is the declining quality of the water. In southern Iraq, for example, the declining flow of the Tigris and Euphrates -- mostly because of Turkish and Syrian dam projects -- has allowed for ocean water to infiltrate the rivers, a development that could threaten local agriculture. (Turkey is also dealing with salinity issues, but because of using too much water.)
As the NASA study points out, the backdrop to this looming water shortage is the fact that the countries involved -- namely, Turkey, Syria and Iraq -- have never really come to an agreement on how to share their water resources. Considering everything else these three countries are fighting over right now, it's hard to imagine them working out this difficult issue anytime soon.