Water & Ice
The global challenge is how to meet the water demands of an estimated 8 billion people by 2025 while protecting the ecosystems that support life on the planet. We must share water—with nature and with each other. – National Geographic Society Freshwater Initiative
The impacts of climate change are most visible in the dramatic changes occurring to the planet’s freshwater resources. Reduced water availability will be one of the key impacts of climate change for many world regions and people. – World Wildlife Fund
Depending where you live in the world, you may take freshwater for granted. Obtaining a glass of water may be as simple as turning on a faucet in your home, making the flow of water appear limitless. For many people around the globe, however, including locations within the United States, freshwater is difficult to come by; it is an invaluable, coveted, and expensive commodity.
Freshwater is drinkable water. Unlike ocean water, it has a very low concentration of dissolved salts. It is found in rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, groundwater, springs, floodplains, and wetlands. It is crucial for life. Did you know, however, that only 3 percent of the earth’s water is fresh, and two-thirds of that is inaccessible to humans, frozen in glaciers and polar ice caps?
We use freshwater not only for drinking. It’s also needed for sanitation, hygiene, and farming, not to mention to support a diverse population of plants and animals. It is renewable in the sense that sources such as rain and snow can replenish or add to existing supplies. But as the climate shifts, bringing less precipitation to certain areas of the world, and as the world population grows, putting greater demands on the amount of freshwater needed or desired, some groundwater sources are facing depletion, and water tables in regions around the world are starting to fall. Water shortages have the potential to instigate and heighten political instability and regional conflict over such issues as water availability, food security, and population distribution.
This fall, the Changing Earth team did a deep dive into all things water and ice in two regions of the United States known for their abundance of water: Minnesota and Alaska. We interviewed scientists, community activists, and cultural historians tackling water issues that have worldwide impact. We also worked with students and teachers at two high schools undertaking their own local water inquiries. Our focus here in sharing their stories is to capture not only the importance of water and of finding solutions to the water challenges we now face, but also to provide steps we can all take now to help keep our water resources safe and sustainable into the unforeseeable future.
When thinking about Minnesota and Alaska, you may initially think these states have only one thing in common: cold and snow. These states, in fact, share much more: physical landscapes shaped by glaciers and rivers; economies built historically on mining and the harvesting of natural resources; thousands of acres of pristine forests; and large Native American populations who are the traditional owners of much of the state’s land, to name a few.
We invite you to explore the stories of water and ice found here in this collection, and then add your own voice to this ongoing narrative using WeExplore, our free online multimedia story builder.
- Learning through Real-World Inquiry
- How Glaciers Benefit the Larger Environment
- Measuring Glacier Behavior
- Alaska’s Rainforest
- Honoring Southeast Alaska Native Heritage, History, and Culture
- Crossing the Icefield
- Wild Alaska
- Bringing Learning to Life in Juneau
- The Big Challenge of Cleaning Up Polluted Waterways
- Using Geospatial Analysis to Assess Water Health
- Mining Impacts on Freshwater
- The Great Lakes
- The Blue Heron: A Research Vessel for the Great Lakes
- Protecting Our Water
- The Danger of Chlorides (Salts) in Our Water
- Water Resources Center and the Case for Reducing Plastic Use
- The Changing Landscape of Rivers