26 Sep

Map of the Week: Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas

By Juli Miller

As average global temperatures increase, a vital resource is falling to scarcity: water. Droughts are leaving communities worldwide vulnerable by increasing the intensity of brush fires, driving agricultural production down, and stranding societies without a clean or stable drinking source. Globally, the threat of water security is rising. Exacerbated by climate change, this threat is increasing at an unprecedented rate, paving a trail of uncertainty and distress in its wake.

Aqueduct’s Water Risk Atlas by the World Resource Institute is a detailed tool for collecting and interpreting data on the state of water security and threats across the globe. As an interactive map, Aqueduct displays a variety of selections that alter the data’s presentation, allowing the user to see the impact of various risks and factors over a timescale that encompasses “baseline” and “future” data. You can select to see the overarching water risk on an annual timescale or specify risks such as drought on a month to month viewpoint.  This open-sourced map employs peer-reviewed data to compile its visuals, where land is colored on a scale of yellow to red, depicting the severity of its water risks.

The map breaks down its collected data into 3 main categories that assess quantitative physical risks, qualitative physical risks, and regulatory risks. These options allow the viewer to visualize how at-risk certain nations are towards physical threats like drought and coastal flooding, qualitative risks like nutrient loading and algal blooms, or regulatory risks like drinking water and sanitation across the globe. Clicking through the options, viewers are able to gain a better grasp on the current state of the world regarding water security.

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Exploring the map’s future projections offers an alarming insight into the global trends of water security. A timeframe projecting threats over the next 20 years is available, allowing users to assess risks from three possible scenarios ranging in severity from: “optimistic”, to “business as usual”, and “pessimistic”. The differences are informative, providing a useful, although bleak look into what may be our future. As you go through the selections, different parts of the map light up, expressing how truly threatened the world may be in the near future. By keeping the projected time scale fairly small, Aqueduct demonstrates how not-too-distant these fates may really be. 

While the map may seem overwhelming at first glance, it proves very user-friendly. Each selectable factor is paired with a brief description of the term as well as a link to the data’s source from the World Resource Institute. For the intently curious, more refined searches are available, allowing users to enter exact coordinates, or visualize how each factored risk is influenced by varying industrial polluting sectors such as agriculture or textile production. Furthermore, the map supports imported files to analyze a set of coordinates and locations under specific conditions. 

Even with a limited understanding of the map’s terms and represented data, WRI’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas gives viewers a detailed visualization of global water threats to come. It is an inviting platform that depicts information is an easy-to-understand format while enabling comparative analysis of different situations and timescales. Although bleak, the map is informative and accessible, enabling education into water risks and threats globally.