Groundwater-dependent ecosystems

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Groundwater-dependent ecosystems (GDEs) are a vital yet poorly understood component of the natural environment. Typical examples of these systems are springs (hydrosphere) and wetlands ecosystems where groundwater reaches the earth's surface.[1] These ecosystems emerge from aquifers and water tables. In some cases, the water emerging in the form of a springs or wetland area have traveled immense distances, over the course of tens, hundreds, and thousands of years.[2] Because springs systems contain high levels of water nutrients and biological diversity, they act as windows into the earth. They are incredibly sensitive ecosystems and indicators of global climate change and the health of groundwater ecosystems.[3]

Earth holds about 332.5 million cubic miles of water and more than 96 percent is saline. Of that, about 2.5 percent remains as freshwater. 68 percent of that freshwater is locked within ice and glaciers, leaving about 30 percent of the world's freshwater supply in the ground. Sources of freshwater weigh in at about 22,300 cubic miles of water - about 1/150th of 1 percent of the world's total water.[4] Spring flows may be immeasurably small compared to rivers and lakes, yet they play a leading role in the greater hydrologic cycle. All of Earth's water is recycled through submarine vent every 8 to 10 million years. They also produce some of the most pristine fresh water and are thus highly valued. However, some springs discharge non-potable water, heavily laden with salts and minerals - meaning that 1/150th of a percent is even smaller.

Despite this obvious importance of springs, and their endangered state, little research has been dedicated to improving knowledge and stewardship of these precious ecosystems. The Springs Stewardship Institute, an initiative of the Museum of Northern Arizona, is dedicated to studying springs ecosystems, educating the public, land managers, and researchers on springs ecology, and improving the stewardship of springs across North American and across the globe. In an effort to further research efforts, by SSI, MNA, and other conservation organizations, SSI has developed the Springs Inventory Database, a publicly accessible database containing over 90,000 records on springs across the United States, Canada, and Europe.

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