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The secret Sicilian treasure made of sweet water



From catastrophe to new hope for Sicily. Only a few months ago, in June, to be precise, on World Desertification Day (established by the UN in 1994), Prof. Vincenzo Piccione, a former professor at the Universities of Reggio Calabria and Catania, published an article in which he claimed that by 2030 (in just seven years’ time), more than half (three quarters to be precise) of the island’s territory would be at risk of desertification. This was also backed up by a publication by Focus Sicilia, which stated that as much as 117 square kilometres of land had dried up in 2022 alone and that as things continued with the rise in average temperatures (a forecast of +5 degrees by 2100), the amount would worsen year after year. So Sicily is at serious risk of desertification! But it is still science that today brings back some hope by stating that underground, stored for millions of years, there is a reservoir of water between 700 metres and 2.5 kilometres, equal to about 50 times more than all that is stored in the island’s reservoirs.

A hidden Sicilian treasure

The announcement was made in an article entitled ‘Extensive freshened groundwater resources emplaced during the Messinian sea-level drawdown in southern Sicily, Italy’, published in the important journal ‘Communications Earth & Enviroment of Nature Portfolio‘ a few days ago. “Deep groundwater resources represent an important and potential source of unconventional water worldwide. Here we document a large fresh/salty groundwater body preserved in a deep carbonate platform aquifer (Gela Formation) in southern Sicily, using deep well data and a 3D hydrogeological analysis,” the article continues. We attribute the distribution of this fossil groundwater to meteoric recharge determined topographically by the Messinian sea level lowering, which we estimate reached 2400 m below present sea level in the eastern Mediterranean basin. The discovery of such extensive and deep groundwater has significant implications in terms of a potential resource for southern Sicily and other Mediterranean coastal regions that share a similar geological setting and water scarcity problems’.

New hope for the island

The study was carried out by a group of researchers from the University of Malta, the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, and the University of Roma Tre, who will implement a development plan and project for the use of these waters in the near future. This would be truly revolutionary news, not only for Sicily but also for other areas of the Mediterranean where the discovery could be replicated.

Fossil waters, which are also present in the Sahara, can be an important water resource, but precisely because of their historical nature, they cannot be replenished and, if overexploited, are destined to run out. Therefore, their use must be considered carefully and cannot completely replace efficient water systems that the island would greatly need.


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