As a result of January’s devastating earthquake, water has suddenly reappeared in the middle of an arid section of India.

Water sprung up after the earthquake liquefied the clay and sand in ancient river beds. Underground water quickly rose to the surface to flood the channels.

This is an area of India that is regularly hit by earthquakes. “The Indian plate is colliding with the Asian plate, so the land is crumpling up,” says Roger Musson of the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Thousands of years ago, this dry region was a lush grassland, but over the years, all the earthquakes diverted the water and dried up the rivers, creating a barren wasteland. The latest earthquake may start to reverse this process.

Janardhan Negi, of the Geophysical Research Institute in India, described the appearance of the river channels as “the only silver lining” in the recent devastation. One of the rivers that has reappeared is the mythical Saraswati, which legends say dried up 4,000 years ago. Another is part of the river Indus, which was diverted after a violent earthquake in 1819. As the Indus dried out and sank, the sea flooded large sections of the delta, then receded, leaving behind vast salty stretches of land.

The news is not all good: tests have shown that the newly flowing water is salty. “The feeder for the rivers cannot be located,” says Negi. But the new water channels may alter the water drainage pattern and help bring the area back to life.

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