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NASA Outlines Changes in Earth's Freshwater Distribution

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U.S.-German mission gives new picture of Earth's most precious natural resource

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Recent space observations of freshwater storage by NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) are providing a new picture of how Earth's most precious natural resource is distributed globally and how it is changing.

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According to a December 12 NASA press release, researchers are using

the mission's nearly five-year data record to estimate seasonal water- storage variations in more than 50 river basins that cover most of Earth's land area.

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The variations reflect changes in water stored in rivers, lakes and reservoirs; on floodplains as snow and ice; and underground in soils and aquifers.

"GRACE is providing a first-ever look at the distribution of freshwater storage on the continents," said Jay Famiglietti, professor of earth system science at the University of California-Irvine.

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"With longer time series," he added, "we can distinguish long-term trends

from natural seasonal variations and track how water availability responds to natural climate variations and climate change."

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GRACE is a partnership between NASA and the German Aerospace Center.

Global Water Storage

Several African basins, such as the Congo, Zambezi and Nile, show significant drying over the past five years. In the United States, the Mississippi and Colorado River basins show water-storage increases during that time. Such information is vital for managing water resources in vulnerable parts of Africa and Southeast Asia because increasing populations and standards of living put demands on often unsustainable water resources. The GRACE data can be used to support more informed regional water-management decisions.

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The twin GRACE satellites monitor tiny month-to-month changes in Earth's

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