News / Africa

Scientists Ponder 'Epoch' of Damage to Global Water System

Scientists say large dams have altered the natural course of many rivers, affecting ecosystems and aquatic life.
Scientists say large dams have altered the natural course of many rivers, affecting ecosystems and aquatic life.

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
Scientists say a new geologic epoch has begun whereby humans are causing major damage to global water systems. They warn of a planetary transformation comparable to the retreat of the glaciers more than 11,000 years ago. Scientists are meeting in Bonn, Germany this week (5/21-24) to discuss what can be done about it.


While some still debate the extent to which humans have affected the environment, scientists meeting in Bonn have little doubt. In fact, there’s a name for the informal geologic epoch they say human activity has caused -- the Anthropocene. Scientists are now debating whether it should be officially included in the Geological Time Scale.

“For nearly a decade the Global Water Systems Project has been coordinating and supporting the broad research to study the complex water systems with interactions between natural and human components. And what we found is human activity plays a very central role in inducing and influencing the changes in the global water systems,” said Anik Bhaduri, executive officer of the Global Water Systems Project based in Bonn.

The project takes a global view of human effects on water systems, rather than simply studying very local environments. He called that a “game changer” in environmental research.

“Humans are impacting the global water systems by building dams, through land use changes, and it influences the global water cycle. As a consequence, the global water systems [are] vulnerable to local-scale human-induced traces. And it has wide-scale ramifications at larger, regional and continental and global scales,” he said.

For example, an International Geosphere-Biosphere Program paper says, “On average, humanity has built one large dam every day for the last 130 years.” It adds, “Tens of thousands of large dams now distort natural river flows to which ecosystems and aquatic life adapted” over thousands of years.

The paper also says groundwater and hydrocarbon pumping in low lying coastal areas have caused many river deltas to sink. That leaves coastlines more vulnerable to storms and tsunamis. It also says that humans now move more rock and sediment for various reasons than ice, wind and water combined. The drainage of wetlands for development removes a natural barrier against floods.

Bhaduri said, “The way the global water systems [are] moving we may reach a point where it is kind of irreversible. We may not go back to the equilibrium point. There it comes in the severity of human actions.”

The head of the Global Water Systems Project said that there can be a trade-off as countries try to ensure water security.

“Our global study map shows that human water security has been often achieved in the short run at the expense of the environment. It is true with the developed countries as well as developing countries. We see this kind of a trade-off between human water security and the water needs for ecosystems. And it has long-run social consequences for the socio-ecological systems as a whole. And that’s a global issue of concern.”

Bhaduri added that water security means both water quantity and water quality.

“There are nexus between energy security, water security, food security and environment. And it needs cooperation at the local level – at the policymakers’ levels – between different countries also. Otherwise, we will move at a direction where it will be very costly to come back,” he said.

Project co-chair Charles Vorosmarty said every year a half trillion dollars worth of “concrete, pipes, pumps and chemicals are thrown at our water problems.” He said that has “produced a technological curtain separating clean water…and the highly stressed natural waters that sit in the background.”

The four-day meeting in Bonn is expected to release a final communiqué outlining what steps need to be taken to mitigate the effects of the Anthropocene epoch. In the long term, the Global Water Systems Project is working on Future Earth – an international collaborative environmental research framework.

You May Like

Reports of Mass Murder on Mediterranean Smuggler’s Boat

Boat sailed from Libya with 750 migrants aboard and arrived in Italy with 569 More

Video New Thailand Hotline Targets Misbehaving Monks

Officials say move aims to restore country’s image of Buddhism, tarnished by recent high profile scandals such as opulent lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as child sex abuse More

Study: Dust from Sahara Helped Form Bahama Islands

What does the Sahara have in common with a Caribbean island? Quite a lot, researchers say More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid