A research team from NASA has created high-resolution maps of freshwater aquifers buried deep beneath a desert in northern Kuwait by using radar sounding technology that measures underground water levels.

Originally developed to explore the subsurface of Mars, the sounding radar could help mapping regions in a desert where these aquifers are located, according to researchers, NASA said in a statement on Wednesday.

An aquifer is an underground wet layer of permeable rock from which useful groundwater can be extracted.


Radar sounding technology developed to explore the subsurface of Mars may soon be used to find water buried deep beneath Earth's deserts. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Researchers say the sounding radar technology could be a great help in arid regions, as it could help water managers drill “more accurately” for underground water.

The technology could locate subsurface aquifers, probe variations in the depth of the water table, and identify locations where water flowed into and out of the aquifers, NASA said.

Led by scientist Essam Heggy of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., the research also puts light on how climate change is affecting the deserts that cover about 20 percent of the earth’s land surface.

Much of the evidence for climate change in Earth's deserts lies beneath the surface and is reflected in its groundwater. By mapping desert aquifers with this technology, we can detect layers deposited by ancient geological processes and trace back paleoclimatic conditions that existed thousands of years ago, when many of today's deserts were wet, Heggy said.


The NASA-led team used the 40-megahertz airborne sounding radar prototype to probe the desert subsurface above an aquifer in northern Kuwait, creating this high-resolution cross section of the aquifer. The radargram shows variations in the depth of the water table from 161 to 171 feet (49 to 52 meters). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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