Visualizing Groundwater Depletion

Even though about two billion of us use groundwater for drinking and cleaning, industrial processes and irrigating our crops every day, most of us aren’t aware that our groundwater resources are being severely depleted around the world.  Water professionals have struggled to get the message out to the public.

I have been fortunate enough to be part of the judging panel for a design competition to try and change this – to try and make the invisible substance of groundwater more visible. Visualizing.org and HeadsUp teamed up to challenge design professionals to bring more attention to the sad state of our groundwater depletion.

All the judges were impressed with the caliber of entries. The winner, Richard Vijgen, was able to innovatively highlight seasonal trends of groundwater for the past decade AND long-term groundwater depletion trends around the world.

Thomson Reuters/Nasdaq has generously donated the billboard space in New York City’s Time Square to celebrate the next World Water Day on March 22, 2012. The display will run for one month. Be sure to watch for it! You can also watch it from afar via webcam starting on World Water Day.

A key challenge we had at the beginning of the contest was locating the right set of data to run the competition. Luckily, Leonard F. Konikow from the U.S. Geological Survey and Jay Famiglietti from the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling, using NASA’s GRACE satellite, had just the right set of information. It has been a very interesting process to connect world-renowned scientists in the water field with design/advertising professionals to get an easier-to-digest groundwater message out to the general public.

So, is any one up for the challenge to bring similar competitions to other major cities in the US and around the world? Or have even better ideas of how to get the message across? Peggy Weil was a one-person tour de force in making this competition happen.  We hope there are others like Peggy who are interested in bringing this to Amman, Beijing, Delhi, Dubai, Mexico City, Sydney, or other places where the groundwater depletion story needs to be told.

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