The map spans the entire globe, and it was created to help authorities counter future droughts. Published last month, the project was a joint effort between a team of University of Minnesota researchers from the Institute on the Environment and scientists hailing worldwide.
The tool accounts for seasonal and yearly variations, said Kate Brauman, the study’s lead author and scientist at IonE.
“Previously, someone attempting to understand their water situation would have to search through several maps and compare them to get an idea,” Brauman said.
The map depicts more than 15,000 watersheds to give a precise idea of how much water is used and where, she said.
Rising concerns over worldwide water scarcity prompted demand for data to accurately predict its impacts, said Brian Richter, chief water scientist at the Nature Conservancy and co-author of the study.
The model can be used to predict potential dangers, Richter said.
“There’s a lot of really practical questions that just need baseline information about the biophysical situation they are in,” Brauman said, “These data are going to be a really great base layer for answering those questions.”
Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project and a co-author on the study, said the tool synthesized information from across sources and integrated it into something simple and understandable.
“[The map] is helping to create a better picture of where to look for problems,” Postel said.
For example, she said, some water shortages come from agricultural use. She said farmers sometimes overuse water, and paying them to halt growing for a year could be one way to bring more water to urban drought-struck areas.
“The model presently is a snapshot of what the conditions are like today. We would like to better understand how things got to be in this condition,” Richter said. “Has this been mounting for decades, or did this come about in the last 10 to 15 years?”
Because the map is free to access and download, researchers hope it will serve a wide range of research purposes.
“We’re going to keep building those tools out so that more and more of the data are available,” said Brauman. “The thing that I hope the most is that people start using [the map] in ways I haven’t even thought of.”