Nearly one-fifth of the Earth's accessible freshwater is stored in the densely-populated, alluvial floodplains of the Brahmaputra, Ganges, Indus, Irrawaddy and Meghna River Systems in the Himalayan region where extreme hydrological conditions exist due to the seasonal variability in terrestrial water storage (TWS). Groundwater storage (GWS) – a hidden resource underneath the land surface, plays a critical role in sustaining irrigated agriculture in these river basins, particularly during the dry season when rice crops are generally grown in irrigated lands across South Asia. Although monitoring of groundwater levels has been operational in the region for a number of decades, a basin-wide comprehensive assessment of GWS is lacking in most river basins. The NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) twin satellites offer an opportunity to map basin-wide changes in GWS where in-situ observations are limited in time and space. GRACE-derived assessments of GWS vary substantially in these basins and have not been reconciled with in-situ observations in most cases. Recent declining trends in GWS over the Himalayan river basins are attributed primarily to over-abstraction of groundwater due to dry-season irrigation. Seasonal variability in terrestrial water is likely to increase or become unpredictable in the future as a result of increased climate variability. The consequent impacts may potentially threaten the security of water supply and food in the region, where there is currently a growing demand for food grains from irrigated agriculture, energy, and domestic and industrial water supplies.
International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, Volume 35, April 2019,