The Water Footprint of Data Centers and AI: Unraveling the Relationship

Datacenter, AI

In today’s digital age, the underpinnings of our most profound technological advancements are deeply rooted in seemingly unrelated domains. One such unexpected connection is between global water consumption and the world of data centers and Artificial Intelligence (AI). As the thirst for data and computational power grows, so does the demand for water. In this article, we’ll dive deep into the hidden relationship between these three elements.

Data Centers: The Unsung Heroes of the Digital World

Data centers are the epicenters of our digital universe. These sprawling infrastructures, brimming with servers, manage, store, and distribute the data that powers everything from our social media feeds to complex AI algorithms.

Cooling Systems: Where Energy Meets Water

It’s no secret that these servers generate immense heat. Keeping them cool is vital for their efficiency and longevity. Traditionally, this cooling has depended on a method known as ‘once-through cooling’. This technique involves drawing vast volumes of water from local sources, using it to cool the machinery, and then discharging the warmed water back. Such a method can have significant environmental implications, such as increasing local water temperatures, thereby affecting aquatic ecosystems.

AI’s Footprint on Water Resources

Artificial Intelligence, especially the training of large models, requires substantial computational power. As AI models become more complex, the servers working behind the scenes need more energy, and subsequently, more cooling. A recent highlight of this escalating concern comes from Dr. Timnit Gebru, co-founder of The Distributed AI Research Institute (DAIR). According to her, Microsoft’s worldwide water consumption saw a surge of 34 percent to nearly 1.7 billion gallons in a year. The primary suspect behind this increase? AI training1. Even more astonishing is Google’s consumption, which soared to 5.6 billion gallons in the same year, marking a 20 percent increase.

Path to Sustainability

Recognizing the challenge, the tech industry is exploring innovative solutions:

Air and Ambient Cooling:

Transitioning away from water-dependent cooling systems, companies are exploring air-cooled methods or leveraging ambient air when the external temperature is conducive.

Recycled Water:

By tapping into treated wastewater, the strain on freshwater resources can be reduced.

Strategic Location Choices:

Establishing data centers in naturally cooler regions reduces the reliance on artificial cooling methods.


The intertwined relationship between global water consumption, data centers, and AI is becoming increasingly evident. As technology continues to advance, addressing the sustainability concerns associated with its progress becomes paramount. With awareness, innovation, and responsible practices, a harmonious balance between technological growth and environmental stewardship is achievable.

Critics Furious Microsoft Is Training AI by Sucking Up Water During Drought” – Futurism.

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