Arsenic-contaminated groundwater used for drinking in China is a health threat that was first recognized in the 1960s. However, because of the sheer size of the country, millions of groundwater wells remain to be tested in order to determine the magnitude of the problem. We developed a statistical risk model that classifies safe and unsafe areas with respect to geogenic arsenic contamination in China, using the threshold of 10 micrograms per liter, the World Health Organization guideline and current Chinese standard for drinking water. We estimate that 19.6 million people are at risk of being affected by the consumption of arsenic-contaminated groundwater. Although the results must be confirmed with additional field measurements, our risk model identifies numerous arsenic-affected areas and highlights the potential magnitude of this health threat in China.
In regions with frequent water stress and large aquifer systems groundwater is often used as an additional water source. If groundwater abstraction exceeds the natural groundwater recharge for extensive areas and long times, overexploitation or persistent groundwater depletion occurs. Here we provide a global overview of groundwater depletion (here defined as abstraction in excess of recharge) by assessing groundwater recharge with a global hydrological model and subtracting estimates of groundwater abstraction. Restricting our analysis to sub‐humid to arid areas we estimate the total global groundwater depletion to have increased from 126 (±32) km3 a−1 in 1960 to 283 (±40) km3 a−1 in 2000. The latter equals 39 (±10)% of the global yearly groundwater abstraction, 2 (±0.6)% of the global yearly groundwater recharge, 0.8 (±0.1)% of the global yearly continental runoff and 0.4 (±0.06)% of the global yearly evaporation, contributing a considerable amount of 0.8 (±0.1) mm a−1 to current sea‐level rise.
Shallow groundwater affects terrestrial ecosystems by sustaining river base-flow and root-zone soil water in the absence of rain, but little is known about the global patterns of water table depth and where it provides vital support for land ecosystems. We present global observations of water table depth compiled from government archives and literature, and fill in data gaps and infer patterns and processes using a groundwater model forced by modern climate, terrain, and sea level. Patterns in water table depth explain patterns in wetlands at the global scale and vegetation gradients at regional and local scales. Overall, shallow groundwater influences 22 to 32% of global land area, including ∼15% as groundwater-fed surface water features and 7 to 17% with the water table or its capillary fringe within plant rooting depths.