Australian scientists say they have made a discovery that could have major implications for the looming global water shortage crisis.
Researchers claim they have discovered huge freshwater aquifers buried underneath the ocean on continental shelves around the world.
They claim to have found up to half a million cubic kilometers (120,000 cubic miles) of low-salinity water near Australia, China, parts of North America and South Africa.
“The volume of this water resource is a hundred times greater than the amount we’ve extracted from the Earth’s sub-surface in the past century since 1900,” said study author Vincent Post, a groundwater hydro geologist from Flinders University.
“Knowing about these reserves is great news because this volume of water could sustain some regions for decades.”
Scientists have long known that freshwater existed under the seabed but few knew how much.
The water is said to have come from rain hundreds of thousands of years ago that sunk into the ground, which was not covered by ocean at the time. About 20,000 years ago the oceans as we know them today were formed.
“So when it rained, the water would infiltrate into the ground and fill up the water table in areas that are nowadays under the sea,” said Post.
Since then, the water has been shielded by sediment and clay.
Though it is possible to exploit it through platform drilling, it is not yet clear if the costs and environmental impact would be worth the exploitation of the water.
Whatever is decided, the United Nations says that by 2030, 50 percent of the world will live under high water stress. Declining water resources could spur governments to tap into the newly-discovered but finite source of freshwater.
The findings are published in the journal Nature.