Humanity just found an incredibly valuable resource hidden under the ocean floor, and it’s more precious than fossil fuels or minerals. Scientists discovered vast aquifers of fresh water underneath the sea. A study published in the December 5th edition of the journal Nature reveals the existence of nearly 120,000 cubic miles of low-salinity water beneath South Africa, North America, Australia, and China. This figure amounts to a volume 100 times greater than all of the fresh water used since the beginning of the twentieth century.

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According to the UN, half of the globe will be struggling to find clean, fresh sources of water by 2030. As countries begin to ramp up their efforts to build desalination plants, the discovery of fresh water below the sea may help ease the pressure on exploding populations.

The water became trapped in its present location hundreds of thousands of years ago back when oceans were not nearly as deep. Scientists hypothesize that rainwater could have seeped through the ground and deposited itself into aquifers. When the polar ice caps began to melt around 20,000 years ago, the level of the sea rose and layers of either clay or sediment protected the reservoirs from salty contamination.

Accessing the water may prove difficult. Drilling comes with a whole host of environmental concerns including ecosystem damage and salt intrusion. The reserves would also need to be used sparingly, because once they are tapped they will not be replenished until sea levels drop once more. With the specter of climate change, this scenario is unlikely to happen for an extremely long time. Still, the human race may have found a vital new resource to ensure its survival into the future.

Via International Business Times

Images via Wikicommons users PDphoto and Anynobody