, Volume 41, Issue 7, pp 657–669 | Cite as

The Water Table: The Shifting Foundation of Life on Land

  • Alexander N. Glazer
  • Gene E. Likens
Review Paper


Hyperarid, arid, and semi-arid lands represent over a third of the Earth’s land surface, and are home to over 38 % of the increasing world population. Freshwater is a limiting resource on these lands, and withdrawal of groundwater substantially exceeds recharge. Withdrawals of groundwater for expanding agricultural and domestic use severely limit water availability for groundwater dependent ecosystems. We examine here, with emphasis on quantitative data, case histories of groundwater withdrawals at widely differing scales, on three continents, that range from the impact of a few wells, to the outcomes of total appropriation of flow in a major river system. The case histories provide a glimpse of the immense challenge of replacing groundwater resources once they are severely depleted, and put into sharp focus the question whether the magnitude of the current and future human, economic, and environmental consequences and costs of present practices of groundwater exploitation are adequately recognized.


Aquifer Environmental impacts Forest dieback Groundwater dependent ecosystems Water table 


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Molecular and Cell BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Cary Institute of Ecosystem StudiesMillbrookUSA

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