Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Samantha Meserve makes this connection here…

On September 6, 2013, The Huffington Post published an article by Danica Coto titled “Caribbean Water Supplies Severely Threatened by Climate Change, Scientists Warn.” This article relates to the WRE domain of hydrology and the specific issue of rising sea levels affecting underground aquifers along with the change in climate, affecting annual rain fall. Rising sea levels are a problem that has recently been identified as posing a threat to the source of drinking water in Caribbean countries. Since the majority of the countries are small islands they rely mostly on underground aquifers and rainfall as their source of drinking water. The rising sea levels have caused sea water to being to infiltrate into the aquifers and contaminate the water used for drinking. Over the past century the Global Sea Level (GSL) has be measured as rising 4-8 inches. Recently, the rate of rising has increased with an annual rate of 0.13 inches (Sea Level Rise). With more sea water surrounding the islands, there is a greater pressure put onto the soil by the water, causing more water to infiltrate the underground aquifers, as seen in Figure 1. Weather patterns are also being affected, with the annual mean precipitation levels decreasing steadily. In 2010 the two main reservoirs that supply Jamaica’s drinking water were down 50% of their usual storage. When there is a decrease in rainfall, the aquifers have no way to be replenished. In between droughts, intense rain has been recorded (Jessop, 2010). However, when a sudden large influx of water occurs there isn’t enough time to for the water to be absorbed by the ground, since it turns mainly into runoff, further inhibiting the aquifers to replenish. Based on this information the accuracy of the declining water sources seems to be accurate, however the data showing the aquifers storage volumes, mean annual rainfall and sea level could have been included to introduce some hard data to the article.

Water resources engineering influences the global, economic, and environmental contexts areas because, water is a primary resource which has impacts in all areas of life. The loss of water supplies relates to the global context because rising sea levels and climate change are an issue that affects the entire globe. It is economic, relating to the economy and the flow of money, because with dwindling water resources water will need to be brought in from other sources and the price of water will rise. Lastly, it is an environmental issue because the changing of the aquifers from freshwater to salt water as well as the lack of rain will have an impact on the surrounding ecosystems. The potential threat that rising sea levels pose to freshwater aquifers was also analyzed, in a broader context, by Werner and Simmons (Werner, 2009). In this article Werner and Simmons look at the effects of sea water on aquifers in a broad approach, rather than a single case analysis, in order to understand the process as a whole and develop theories as to why this is occurring and how to stop it. Rising sea levels causing climate change is noted as the largest potential threat to freshwater aquifers. In this case it is clear that rising sea levels are causing a decline in fresh water aquifers and changing the surround environment while also affecting the economy and the availability of resources.

The interface between the ocean and coastal aquifers.

The interface between the ocean and coastal aquifers.

References:

Coto, D. Caribbean Water Supplies Severely Threatened By Climate Change, Scientists Warn . The Huffington Post.September 6, 2013

Jessop, D. The Caribbean Drought . Barabados Gazette . April 13, 2010

Sea Level Rise. National Geographic .

Werner, A. D. Impact of Sea-Level Rise on Sea Water Intrusion in Coastal Aquifers. Ground Water, 2009; 197-204.

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