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World Rivers Day: How humanity shapes and abuses crucial waterways



mississippi river satellite space 2018 04 deimos imagingA satellite view of the Mississippi River in April 2018.Deimos Imaging/UrtheCast

Rivers are veins that nourish human civilization. They fill our glasses with drinking water, irrigate our fields, nurture our livestock, and generate electricity.

But our reliance on these crucial waterways is rarely harmonious.

“I think rivers are treated as a renewable resource when they’re really not,” John Bolten, a hydrologist and the associate program manager of water resources at NASA’s Applied Sciences Program, told Business Insider. “It’s remarkable how many people are dependent on access to clean water. If rivers are not conserved and used properly, it’s a detriment to everyone.”

That’s well worth considering on World Rivers Day, held annually at the end of September.

To keep an eye on the planet and its most precious resource, Bolten and other researchers study image data from advanced satellites that orbit Earth.

“Using satellite observations, we’re able to have a regional perspective, and to have a global perspective, on water,” Bolten said. He added that — thanks to decades’ worth of observations — those perspectives also span across time.

Here are some of the most telling satellite images of rivers (which we sourced primarily from NASA Earth Observatory) and what they reveal about our close and often contentious relationship with vital waterways.

Efforts to recover and preserve some of the Aral Sea’s water have mostly floundered, and the ramifications are expansive and ongoing. “The loss of the moderating influence of such a large body of water made winters colder and summers hotter and drier,” NASA says.

Source: NASA Earth Observatory

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