World Water Map maps total fresh water reserves

In collaboration with the National Geographic Society, Utrecht scientists Marc Bierkens and Niko Wanders will work on a “global water map” for the next five years. Through this project, they are mapping fresh water supplies around the world, but also the “hotspots” that experience the most water scarcity.

Mark PerkinsBierkens and Wanders also want to investigate how vulnerable areas are created. “Knowing that will also help us better predict where we can expect hot spots in the future,” says Perkins of Washington, where he is with Wanderers to start the Global Water Map project.

The two hydrologists use the latest technology, models, and satellite data to expand existing data sets and to collect new data that provide insights into current and future freshwater supplies. This relates to data on, for example, food crops, water temperature and water quality.

“The end product consists of three parts,” says the professor. “Enhanced interactive model, datasets, and maps. These are for science, but also for policy makers in high-risk areas, and for the public.”

a task
National Geographic, the publisher of the magazine of the same name, among others, mainly focuses on the latter two target groups. Based on the results of the global water map, the organization aims to fund new projects for education and conservation. Journalists and photographers will soon be able to apply for a grant for stories about, for example, the consequences of fresh water scarcity.

“Access to fresh water is critical to future generations,” Alex Tate, a geographer with the National Geographic Society, said in a press release. “Understanding the sources and uses of fresh water and how they have changed over time is critical to living sustainably on Earth. This aligns well with our mission: to illuminate and protect the wonders of our world.”

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Tait calls the collaboration with Utrecht University “a unique opportunity to combine the power of science and education to inspire people to a more sustainable relationship with fresh water and our planet”.

Last year, Perkins was awarded the prestigious European Advanced Research Council Scholarship. He uses this to investigate how much groundwater is still on Earth and how much can be extracted responsibly.

Although this research is primarily scientific in nature, the two projects are mutually reinforcing, he says. In places where fresh water is scarce, this often also applies to groundwater. “But with the World Water Map we get more, which is something we’re not always good at at university.”

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Megan Vasquez

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