Brought to you by Newscorp Australia

Scientists discover huge freshwater aquifer below the Atlantic Ocean

Andrew Backhouse, July 1, 2019 6:45PM

Print Article

A massive freshwater aquifer has been found under the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New York, US. Picture: Getty Images/AFP media_cameraA massive freshwater aquifer has been found under the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New York, US. Picture: Getty Images/AFP


Reading level: orange

Scientists have discovered a lake under the ocean holding enough freshwater to fill 1 billion swimming pools.

It’s believed to be the biggest known undersea freshwater aquifer* on Earth.

A study published in the science journal Nature reveals the huge aquifer contains at least 2800 cubic kilometres of mostly freshwater and is in the Atlantic Ocean off New York, US.

The team believes this aquifer, which is contained within a continental shelf*, could be one of many like it around the world.

If they are right, these massive freshwater reserves could help provide water needed by the world’s growing population.

The UN estimates there will be 9.7 billion people living on Earth by 2050.

Countries including India are already suffering major shortages — with the Indian city of Chennai already running dry.

At least 21 cities in India are expected to run out of groundwater by 2020, with 100 million people to be affected.

India facing water shortage amidst heatwave

The researchers were confident they would find some undersea freshwater, but were surprised by how much they found.

“We knew there was freshwater down there in isolated places, but we did not know the extent or geometry*,” said lead author Chloe Gustafson, who is from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in the US.

“It could turn out to be an important resource in other parts of the world.”

It’s believed the water in the aquifer is from ice that melted after the last ice age 15,000 to 20,000 years ago that was then trapped in rock

It’s possible the aquifer is also being fed by run-off from the land.

The aquifer spans at least 350km off the US Atlantic coast.

Drilling deep below the ocean in the 1970s in this area found that there was freshwater under the sea. But those tests only told scientists there was water at the exact places that were drilled.

For this study, rather than drilling holes, scientists sent electromagnetic waves down below the ocean to map the water. Electromagnetic waves are a form of energy.

The scientists measure and look at the energy waves that bounce back. Energy waves that come back from hitting water are different to energy waves that come back from hitting rock.

Other scientists have recently used similar techniques to find underground water on Mars.

We are facing a water-pocalypse


  • aquifer: underground layer of water-bearing rock
  • continental shelf: the area of seabed around a large land mass that is shallow compared to the seabed off the shelf


Massive Mars lake discovery

Is the world running out of water

Dam levels drop as big dry drags on

If you feel like complaining, think of Precious


  1. Which ocean is the aquifer in?
  2. How many people could be living on Earth by 2050?
  3. What country is Chennai in? Why is it mentioned?
  4. What happened in the 1970s in this area?
  5. What did the scientists use to measure the size of the aquifer?


1. Design a reservoir
Scientists predict there are 2800 cubic kilometres of freshwater in this aquifer. If they were able to access this water for drinking, they would need to store it somewhere before being able to distribute it around the world. Design a reservoir (or a series of smaller reservoirs) that will hold this amount of water. Draw a picture of your design with the dimensions labelled. How many megalitres can be stored in your reservoir (or each reservoir)? Are the dimensions of your reservoir realistic?

You will need to know:

How to calculate the volume of your reservoir.

  • For a rectangle, volume is length x width x depth.
  • For a cylinder volume is π x radius x radius x height

1 cubic kilometre is equal to 1,000,000,000,000 litres which is equal to 1,000,000 megalitres.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Mathematics, Technologies — Design and technologies, Critical and Creative thinking

2. Extension
The article says that this amount of water could fill 1 billion swimming pools. However, it doesn’t say how large those pools are. Would it fill this many Olympic-sized pools?

The dimensions for an Olympic sized pool are 50m x 25m x 2m. You will need to calculate how many megalitres of water an Olympic-sized pool can hold.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Mathematics

Simple Prepositions
Preposition is a word used to link nouns, pronouns or phrases within a sentence. They are words like at, for, in, off, over and under. Often they are used to describe a location, place or time.

Look through the article and highlight all the words that you can find that are simple prepositions.

Pick three to use in new sentences to demonstrate prepositions.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you think we should start using this undersea freshwater?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

Extra Reading in environment