African Groundwater Discovery May Slake Thirst
Dr. Jan Michels, Christian-Albrechts-Universi
It might sound a bit cramped, but there's an entire world of organisms that can call a drop of water their home. And, up close, they look practically out-of-this-world. Each year, the Nikon Small World competition sets out to collect some of the best microphotography. Take a look at some of this year's most stunning images of creatures that live in water. This photo from Dr. Jan Michels of Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel in Kiel, Germany shows Temora longicornis, a marine copepod, from its ventral view at 10 times magnification.
SEE MORE PHOTOS: It's a Nikon Small World After All
Frank Fox, Fachhochschule Trier/Nikon Small W
This microphotograph shows the diatom Melosira moniliformis at 320 times its size.
Jonathan Franks, University of Pittsburgh/Nik
This algae biofilm photographed up-close makes what's usually referred to as "pond scum" look like art.
Michael Shribak and Dr. Irina Arkhipova, Mari
This Philodina roseola rotifer was alive and well when this microphotograph was taken.
Dr. Ralf Wagner/Nikon Small World
This microphoto shows a water flea flanked by green algae.
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Charles Krebs Photography/Nikon Small World
Warfare in a water droplet! This microphoto shows a Hydra capturing a water flea at 40-times magnification.
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Dr. John H. Brackenbury, University of Cambri
One of the ultimate human pests -- the mosquito -- begins life as larvae, here shown suspended in a single droplet of water.
Gerd A. Guenther/Nikon Small World
Ever wonder what sex between two freshwater ciliates looks like magnified at 630 times its actual size? Now you know!
Joan Rohl, Institute for Biochemistry and Bio
This freshwater water flea is shown at 100 times its actual size.
Wolfgang Bettighofer/Nikon Small World
Closterium lunula, a kind of green alga, is shown here. This particular specimen came from a bog pond, according to the photographer.
John Gaynes, University of Utah/Nikon Small W
While it may resemble a visitor from outer space, this is what a zebrafish embryo looks like under a microscope, three days after being fertilized.
Dr. Carlos Alberto Muñoz, University of Puer
This microscopic crustacean appears yellowish-orange because it is mounted in Canada Balsam with crystals and other artifacts.
Two newly discovered groundwater sources could slake the thirst of a volcanic region of Kenya and vitalize the drought-prone area’s economy.
The aquifers lie beneath the Turkana and Lotikipi basins in northern Kenya and together hold 250 billion cubic meters of water, reported the BBC. Kenya only uses approximately 3 billion cubic meters per year. All that extra water could ease the suffering of the 17 million Kenyans who lack access to safe water.
Although Lake Turkana is the largest desert lake in the world, it is also the world’s largest alkaline lake, and the high levels of fluoride in the water make it unsafe for consumption. Still, many in the region drink the lake water to survive despite its debilitating health effects.
Last year, the region suffered from a drought that killed much of the livestock, which the residents depend on for food. Those who survived the immediate threat of starvation are struggling now to replenish their herds.
“This newly found wealth of water opens a door to a more prosperous future for the people of Turkana and the nation as a whole. We must now work to further explore these resources responsibly and safeguard them for future generations,” Kenya’s Environment Minister Judi Wakhungu said at a meeting of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
To maintain the benefits of these newly discovered water sources, Kenya will have to avoid the mistakes that other nations have made in exploiting aquifers. In the United States, for example, the Ogallala aquifer underlies eight states in the center of the country. The aquifer provides drinking water to approximately 1.9 million Americans in the Plains regions, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The underground water also supplies nearly one third of the ground water used for crop irrigation in the nation. However, since the 1950s the aquifer has dropped dramatically in New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and portions of Texas.
The problem for the Plains is that the rate of recharge for the aquifer can’t keep pace with the rate of human use. The arid environment and impermeable soil of much of the Plains region limits the amount of water that can trickle back into the aquifer after rain and crop irrigation.
Farmers in the region came to depend on the aquifer after the disaster of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, and if the aquifer dries out, so will the farms. A recent USGS report found that aquifer use sped up in the past decade. Without a nationwide plan for sustainable use of the Ogllala aquifer, high intensity agriculture in the Plains could become impossible.
As the Talking Heads might have said, Kenya’s once in a lifetime find of water flowing underground may help people living in shotgun shacks in another part of the world. But first they must develop a sustainable means to remove the water and carry the water, or else the drought problem will be the same as it ever was.
IMAGE: Lake Turkana is situatated in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya. It is the world’s largest desert lake and the world’s largest alkaline lake. Rocks in the surrounding area are predominantly volcanic. (Martin Harvey/Corbis)