UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


Who is eating up the world's aquifers? Groundwater depletion in international food

17 May 2017, 5:30 pm–7:30 pm

agriculture irrigation

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UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


Room G01, Central House, 14 Upper Woburn Place, London, WC1H 0NN

Recent hydrological modelling and Earth observations have quantified alarming rates of groundwater depletion worldwide. This depletion is primarily due to water withdrawals for irrigation, but its connection with the main driver of irrigation, global food consumption, has not yet been explored. Here we show that approximately 11% of non-renewable groundwater use for irrigation is embedded in international food trade, of which two-thirds are exported by Pakistan, the USA and India.

Our quantification of groundwater depletion embedded in the world’s food trade is based on a combination of global, crop-specific estimates of non-renewable groundwater abstraction and international food trade data. A vast majority of the world’s population lives in countries sourcing nearly all their staple crop imports from partners who deplete groundwater to produce these crops, highlighting risks for global food and water security.

Some countries, such as the USA, Mexico, Iran and China, are particularly exposed to these risks because they both produce and import food irrigated from rapidly depleting aquifers. Our results could help improve the sustainability of global food production and groundwater resource management by identifying priority regions and agricultural products at risk as well as the end consumers of these products.

Reference: Dalin C., Y. Wada, T. Kastner and M. Puma (2017) Nature 543, 700-704.

About the speaker

Dr Carole Dalin joined the Institute of Sustainable Resources at UCL in August 2016 as a NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) Independent Research Fellow and Senior Research Fellow. Her fellowship research project, Developing Integrated Environmental Indicators for Sustainable Global Food Production and Trade (FOODIES), focuses on quantifying the environmental sustainability of food production and trade across the world.

From 2014 to 2016, Carole was a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. There, she worked on the Southern Africa’s Hydro-Economy and Water Security (SAHEWS) project with Declan Conway, concentrating on the water-food-energy nexus of Southern Africa, and on the socio-economic implications of climate forecasts, regarding natural resources management in particular.

She obtained her Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering & Water Resources with Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe and her Certificate in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy with Denise Mauzerall, both at Princeton University.

Her doctoral thesis focuses on water resources transfers, through Chinese and international agricultural trade.

Carole obtained a Diplome d'Ingénieur from Ecole Centrale Paris in 2011, with majors in Physics, Chemistry and Environmental Science.

Booking information

We expect this event to be extremely popular, and places will be on a first come first served basis. If you are no longer able to attend please email sustainable-resources@ucl.ac.uk.

The presentation will promptly start at 5:30pm and will be followed by drinks and nibbles. 

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