Compromised coastal water supplies: It’s not you, climate change, it’s us

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Coastal groundwater aroused the interest of Tom Gleeson, professor in McGill’s Department of Civil Engineering, and his University of Saskatchewan colleague Grant Ferguson. The two geoscientists co-led a study of 1,400 coastal watersheds. They found that rising coast waters, due to climate change, weren’t having much effect on the aquifers. Human activity—specifically, pumping water for drinking, domestic use and irrigation—however, is having a big detrimental effect on coastal ground water supplies.

Aquifers retain freshwater from rain or melting snow, for example, which is then pumped for the nearby populations’ daily use. As demand rises (an estimated 25 per cent of Canadians now use water from aquifers) the aquifers are left high and dry—a particular problem for coastal aquifers, which can flood with seawater. “Coastal aquifers are very vulnerable to increased water demand so we have real policy opportunities,” says Gleeson. “We can reduce consumption of groundwater in coastal areas or manage groundwater use wisely.” Gleeson and Ferguson recently published their study in the journal Nature Climate Change.

This research was made possible in part through support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). Tom Gleeson is a CIFAR Junior Fellow.

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