GROW: GROundWater sustainability and crop production

Groundwater, crucial for people and the environment, is overused globally, especially in irrigated regions. GROW aims to ensure sustainable groundwater use while meeting the rising demand for food. Balancing the water needed for a healthy environment with the crops we want to grow is a huge global challenge for a sustainable future. This project is funded by the European Research Council Starting Grant awarded to dr. Inge de Graaf.

Project description

Groundwater is the largest accessible source of freshwater and is of critical importance for humans and the environment. Irrigation is by far the largest user of groundwater worldwide and accounts for 17% of the global cropland area and 40% of the global food production. Currently groundwater is overused in various regions around the world and negative impacts are experienced. To reduce and prevent negative impacts of groundwater overuse, groundwater must be used more sustainably. At the same time, global food demands will rise and crop production has to increase to secure adequate food supply worldwide. A daunting global challenge lies ahead in how to use groundwater sustainable while at the same time sufficient crop production, to support regional and global food security, should be maintained. In GROW we aim to assess how much groundwater is sustainably available worldwide and to what extent this available groundwater supports sufficient crop production to meet current and future food demands.

The project GROW will specifically focus on the often-overlooked water resource beneath our feet: groundwater. The outcomes of this project will result in a much-improved understanding of groundwater availability at the global scale. The project will define the environmentally safe operating space for current and future groundwater abstraction and will quantify the key trade-offs in groundwater use between crop production and the environment. A novel and innovative modelling framework will be developed linked to a set of novel future demand and water use scenarios, including adaptation towards sustainable groundwater use worldwide.

GROW PhD and Postdoc projects

  • Bryan Marinelli: Environmental Impacts of Global Groundwater Use
  • Tijmen Willard: Groundwater use and crop production
  • Sida Liu: development and application of coupled groundwater and crop growth model
  • Tba: Development and application of water demand and water use scenarios including adaptation.

(related project)

  • Floris Teuling: Modelling groundwater quality for the evaluation of global groundwater sustainability.

Publications and results

  • Mohan, C., T. Gleeson, T. Forstner, J.S. Famiglietti, I.E.M. de Graaf (2023) Quantifying groundwater’s contribution to regional environmental flows in diverse hydrological landscapes. Water Resources Research. doi:10.1029/2022/2022WR033153.
  • Scanlon, B.R., S. Fakhreddine, A. Rateb, I.E.M. de Graaf, J. Famiglietti, T. Gleeson, R.Q. Grafton, E. Jobbagy, S. Kebede, S. Rao Kolusu, L. F. Konikow, D. Long, M. Mekonnen, H. Müller Schmied, A. Mukherjee, A. MacDonald, R. C. Reedy, M. Shamsudduha, C. T. Simmons, A. Sun, R. G. Taylor, K. G. Villholth, C. J. Vörösmarty, C. Zeng (2023), Global water resources and the role of groundwater in a resilient water future, Nature Reviews Earth & Environment 4, 87-101. doi:s43017-022-03378-6.

Outstanding Student Award and PhD candidate Award (OSPP) of the European Geosciences Union for:

Marinelli, B., I.E.M. de Graaf, Global violations of environmentally critical groundwater discharge, European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria. Poster presentation.

Funded by

This project is funded by the European Research Council Starting Grant, awarded to dr. ir Inge de Graaf in 2022. Two PhD and two postdoc projects will be part of this project.