Abundant fresh water reserves discovered below the ocean

Water is a scarce resource in many nations. In fact, in recent days, a water-sharing deal among Israelis, Jordanians and the Palestinians was seen as an unusual, even historic victory, which took some 11 years of water negotiations to reach.

The Middle East is not alone in its desire for stability in securing this scarce resource. According to United Nations (UN) statistics, by 2030, fully half of this planet’s citizens will be living “in conditions of high water stress,” according to International Business Times.

Substantial levels of fresh water found under the ocean

That makes the news in the recent issue of the journal Nature very good indeed. According to new research, there appear to be vast reserves of fresh water under the sea floor. While scientists have been doing off-shore drilling for oil and gas reserves, they have come upon an unexpected find: aquifers of fresh water.  

These are not small pockets, either. Scientists’ initial estimates are that there may be as much as, or more than, 120,000 cubic miles of these sub-oceanic reservoirs. According to the International Business Times, Australian Hydro-geologist Vincent Post reports:

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.

However, one should note that use of water has increased in modern times since the turn of the 20th century. This can be explained equally by  population growth and the increasing use of water for agricultural purposes (both in irrigation and meat production).

How did fresh water get there?

This discovery begs the question: Just how did fresh water end up below the ocean depths? Actually, researchers believe it has been there for hundreds of thousands of years. During prehistoric times, the oceans were much shallower, and most fresh water on Earth was contained in glaciers. Water from rain showers and melting glaciers would have soaked through the ocean bedrock, storing below in vast aquifers.

Then, some 20,000 years ago, ocean levels began rising due to melting polar ice caps. Sediment was formed on the ocean bed, trapping the fresh water below it. This low-salinity water is actually quite common and can be found along the continental shelves near the coasts of Australia, China, South Africa and North America, according to ABC News.

Reserves and their usage

Just what does this vast storehouse of fresh water mean for the world’s citizens? Namely, as with recent additional discoveries of oil and gas, there is likely far more of this natural resource than anyone had expected, and it could sustain water-scarce nations for centuries to come.

No one should get too complacent, however, about these recently discovered fresh water reserves. Notes Professor Post, “We should use them carefully; once gone, they won’t be replenished until the sea level drops again, which is not likely to happen again for a very long time.”

An additional vulnerability comes in tapping this water for use. There is always the danger that drilling for this fresh water beneath the ocean risks contaminating the water, particularly with escaping salty sea water. Drilling is also an expensive process and comes with its own risks of environmental damage.

Yet, for those who live in areas of perpetually scarce water resources, the news of this fresh water discovery comes as a welcome relief.