Water Underground

A new data portal for permeability!

A new data portal for permeability!

Permeability data is tucked many dusty corners of the web and in even dustier reports, books and thesis. The purpose of the Crustal Permeability Data Portal is to ‘unearth’ (pun intended!) permeability data by providing links to online, peer-reviewed permeability data that is open to anyone around the world.

This data portal colldata portalates links to other data sources rather than hosting data and is a community-based effort that grew out of a compilation of papers on Crustal Permeability (Geofluids special edition and forthcoming Wiley book).

A related community-based effort is the Digital Crust which a 4D data system of spatially-located data. The Crustal Permeability Data Portal is different from the Digital Crust since it will not host data and data does not have to be spatially located.

Why should I contribute data?

  • data availability is crucial to the core scientific principle of reproducibility
  • sharing is easy and feels good
  • some journals (e.g. Nature) and most scientific funding agencies (NSF, NSERC, NERC etc.) encourage or require data management and sharing

What are the data requirements?

  • Peer-reviewed, that is published in a peer-reviewed journal, book or report
  • Permeability or other related fluid flow and transport parameters such as porosity, storage etc.
  • Hosted on a publicly available on an online data repository such as figshare or institutional webpages such as the USGS

It’s simple: All you need to do is upload your data and fill out this form.

When it snows, it pours (into aquifers)! Recharge seasonality around the world…

When it snows, it pours (into aquifers)! Recharge seasonality around the world…

Written by Scott Jasechko
University of Calgary

Groundwater is renewed by rain and melted snow that moves under the ground, a process called groundwater recharge. The percentages of summer versus winter precipitation that make it under the ground are expected to be different for a number of reasons including larger plant water use during the summer, and larger areas of frozen ground during the winter.
Our recent research shows that winter precipitation is more likely to move under the ground than summer rain in many areas, including grasslands in Canada and the USA, deserts in Australia and Mexico, and valleys in China and Europe [Jasechko et al., 2014].

But most groundwater is managed over many years, not single seasons [Gleeson et al., 2010]. So who cares if recharge is biased to winter precipitation?

That groundwater recharge is biased to the wintertime matters because of ongoing and anticipated climate change. The warming world is changing how much precipitation falls during the winter and how much falls during the summer [Vera et al., 2006]. One implication of our work is that changes to winter precipitation are likely to have a disproportionately large impact on groundwater recharge compared to similar changes to summer rain.

Winter snow packs are declining in many cold areas [Hernández-Henríquez et al., 2015]. The impacts that declining snow packs and other changes brought on by global warming will have on groundwater recharge, remain unclear.

Most (70%) of this post is in plain language according to up-goer 5. Scott commented that he is much better at drawing snowflakes than he has ever been before thanks to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9Ge-M5ljSI

Is research on ‘regional groundwater flow’ stagnant or still flowing?

Is research on ‘regional groundwater flow’ stagnant or still flowing?

brian at edmonton zoo Written by Brian Smerdon
IAH regional groundwater flow commission

toth unitbasin original

Scanned image of Joe’s original figure from the 60’s

In the early 1960’s József Tóth published seminal work on the concept of regional scale flow and nested flow systems. His work built on the “theory of groundwater motion” by M.K. Hubbard, and seemed to come along just at the right moment in history of hydrogeology. Armed with József Tóth’s work, the hydrogeologic community (geologist and engineers) began to see a picture larger than revealed by pumping tests, one that functionally related flow systems and natural processes and phenomena.

Over the past 50 years, the regional scale concept has certainly made a significant contribution to hydrogeology:

  • Nearly 1200 GoogleScholar citations
  • Special session at GSA’s annual meeting in 2007 (T34-1, T34-2)
  • Inverted imagery covering Freeze and Cherry’s textbook
  • Formation of the IAH Regional Groundwater Flow Commission (RGFC), whose mission is to foster international research and practical application of the concept through education and research activities, as well as organizing sessions at conferences.

However, one can wonder what the next ‘big step’ in regional flow might be. The list of peer-reviewed articles documenting regional flow evidence is gradually growing, but the basic understanding still links back to the seminal papers. What is the state of regional groundwater flow research? Did it reach maturity sometime in the past 50 years? How does it shape your current research?

To begin exploring the current state of regional flow research, a few discussions were initiated on the Regional Groundwater Flow Commission’s LinkedIn group page. Active supporters appear to have found use for the concept early in their careers, either in characterizing flow systems for better management of water resource, applying it to petroleum exploration, or simply as a basis frame their groundwater research of the moment.

When posed with the question about the future of regional scale research, many supporters shared the opinion that there is more scope for broadening the application across neighboring disciplines, rather than attempting to advance the underlying concept.

On LinkedIn, József Tóth summarized the discussion nicely:

“The regional flow concept has indeed matured in terms of understanding of the structure, effects and controlling factors of flow patterns. Major developments are unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. However, I expect the concept to be extended by the broadening scope of its practical applications in the various groundwater dependent disciplines.”

Maybe the concept explains everything we can observe so far, such that there is no need for advancement. Maybe emerging methodologies and Earth observation technologies will lead to findings that can’t be explained by the regional flow concept. In this regard, regional groundwater flow research is in the midst of a period of ‘normal science‘, awaiting revolution.

So, perhaps the state of regional groundwater flow research is much like regional flow itself: parts of it are active/dynamic and interacting with other natural systems (i.e. educating the broader geoscience community, finding applications in other scientific disciplines); and parts of it are stagnant (i.e. the basic theory), awaiting for some transient signal to continue the evolution to a new equilibrium.

Let us know what your perspective is by commenting below!

Water underground is flowing again….

Water underground is flowing again….

After a joyous eight-month-long paternity leave, I am back being a professor during the day, and now being a dad at night. A little visual teaser of my time off is below – swimming with a sea turtle on the north shore of Kauai, Hawaii.

On top of becoming a dad, I changed universities; I am now in Civil Engineering at University of Victoria. It is a rad new program focusing on sustainability and problem-based learning that I am honored and excited to be part of. So lots of changes and exciting thing happening (new students, new projects, new classes), all with less sleep than one really needs. And I am excited to start blogging again more actively….. P1000182

Making guidelines for graduate students

Making guidelines for graduate students

I strive for effective, compassionate supervision and I clarify my goals, approach and expectations in my guidelines for graduate students (available here, from McGill’s best practices in supervision). As I wrote, most students enter a relationship with a thesis advisor without a clear idea of what they can expect so I compiled this handout to give you some idea of what I expect of you as student and what you can expect of me as an advisor. So that this never happens, I hope:


My highest level priority is for both of us to communicate and set mutually-agreed-upon goals (LINK OTHER POST) and then both do our best to make those goals into reality. As one of my students, I plan to treat you as a junior colleague who is maturing into a professional engineer or scientist. This means that you can actively co-create opportunities to meet your goals, and also puts a large responsibility on your shoulders to live up to the expectations of performance that are required of a colleague.

I have found clarifying my goals, approach and expectations in my guidelines for graduate students have helped students and helped me be a more effective and compassionate supervisor.

Thank you to the awesome Cutting Edge Workshop for Early Career Geoscience Faculty where I learned about graduate student guidelines a few years ago. I emphatically encourage all young faculty to attend!

The Groundwater Wetlands and Bogs Study Group

The Groundwater Wetlands and Bogs Study Group

The Groundwater Wetlands and Blogs Study Group is an unfunded, voluntary collaboration of professionals, formed in December 2012, focused on groundwater wetlands, bogs, and related systems.  The Study Group has about 250 members in 39 countries.

Study Group members communicate primarily through a disciplined Yahoo Group listserve.  We are not a social network nor are we an environmental advocacy group. The listserve is used primarily to exchange scientific and technical information.  Exchanges of information are usually brief and technically focused.

For such leadership as is necessary, the Study Group has a Leadership Project composed of a Facilitator and four additional members. Decision-making in the Study Group is simple… an idea will be suggested to the Facilitator or other member of the Leadership Project…will be discussed among the Leadership…and may then be posted to the entire group for discussion. The Post contributed by Tom Baugh who blogs at Hidden Springs.

One such idea was participation in the Joint Aquatic Sciences Meeting held in Portland, Oregon in May 2015. The Study Group offered a number of papers in Portland in a session that attracted about 150 participants. Another project is currently underway with the journal Freshwater Science where the Study Group will sponsor a special session of papers tentatively scheduled for the June 2016 issue of the journal.  Sometimes, project groups will form to address specific issues…several of these include a Journal Literature Project and a Science App Project.

Study Group membership is by invitation and there is no fee. Those interested in joining should contact Study Group Facilitator Tom Baugh at springmountain1@att.net. Post contributed by Tom Baugh who blogs at Hidden Springs.

Longstreet Springs

Longstreet Springs, Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Tom Baugh


Are we in the age of postmodern groundwater?

Are we in the age of postmodern groundwater?

My humanities colleagues and friends are always talking about postmodernism or pomo for short (see this funny satire). I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ‘modern groundwater’ (stay tuned for a cool paper), so I started wondering if there is ‘postmodern groundwater’.

Modern groundwater is groundwater recharged since the huge spike it tritium in the early 1960’s due to above ground thermonuclear testing. But tritium has a short half-life, so atmospheric tritium concentrations have largely decayed back to pre-bomb spike concentrations (see graph below). So does this mean that we are in the age of postmodern groundwater or pomo gw?


Tritium concentrations in precipitation through time (from USGS)

Googling ‘postmodern groundwater’ comes up with nothing, so maybe I’m on to something new. The only thing online that is close seems to be Michael Campana’s more political and very interesting ‘Postmodern water cycle” shown here:

pomo_water cycle

The Postmodern Water Cycle by Kate Ely, Umatilla Basin hydrologist extraordinaire for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, as posted on waterwired.


Groundwater is NOT photogenic!

Groundwater is NOT photogenic!

One of the first things I realized when designing this blog was that groundwater is not photogenic, in the extreme. Seriously: I dare every hydrogeologist to go to google images and search  ‘groundwater‘.  You find something like this:

I am not saying that I dislike conceptual models or think they are ugly.  I actually quite like them, which maybe explains my current profession!

But I do think in our image-obsessed, aesthetically driven culture, a group of people who use mathematical models to study something that is invisible and underground, potentially have SOME SERIOUS IMAGE AND COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS. Ok, hydrogeologists, what are we going to do about it?

A social media dashboard for researchers – taming the digital anarchy for nerds

A social media dashboard for researchers – taming the digital anarchy for nerds

Is anyone else overwhelmed by updating their many webpages, blogs, streams etc?

Jason Priem described the shift from a paper-native academia to a web-native academia, in an excellent article last year in Nature, a shift well beyond the traditional peer-reviewed journal to more diverse outlets of information, interaction and discussion. I am part of the first generation of researchers who are excited to use social media but we need more and better tools to make social media work even better for ourselves and others. Something like HootSuite for Prof 2.0!

I love Hootsuite, a dashboard for managing various social media profiles  (twitter, facebook etc.) in one handy place, across multiple platforms (phone, computer, tablets etc.). It looks something like this…

hootesuiteWe need something similar to manage the various facets of academic life. Just to give you some idea, these are all the pages and sites I try to maintain: personal research webpage, this Water Underground blog, twitter, LinkedIn profile, Google scholar, ResearchGate, ResearcherID, Vimeo, Groundwater footprint. I am happy to do this but it can be overwhelming in the midst of the other pulls of academic life – and I don’t even use facebook!

Ideally, this new platform would be a simple, user-friendly, open-source dashboard that would integrate various social media outlets academics use, plus be a simple place to update citations. A great and relatively simple first step would be a single place to update reference lists, which are a crucial part of how academics are evaluated so it is useful to keep them updated. Currently, my references are listed on Google Scholar, ResearchGate, ResearcherID, as well as a couple university webpages. It would be great to be able to export citations (already in standard formats like EndNote or BibTeX) and have these citations populate and update all my reference lists. I know Google Scholar already does this automatically (and usually correctly) but it would be great for consistency across outlets.

It would be great to link all kinds of altmetrics with this simple, social professor dashboard. Altmetrics are alternative metrics to the widely-used journal impact factor and personal citation indices like the h-index. An aggregate metric is calculated from how much as article, person, event (or blog post – subtle hint!) is viewed, discussed, saved, cited or recommended. As Priem writes, altmetrics will “draw new maps of scholarly contribution, unprecedented in subtlety, texture and detail.” And I find this to be already true – I often follow meandering altmetrics paths from a scientific article to news articles or discussions about the scientific article, and then I use this to enrich blog posts or tweets.

I flit across the web throughout my day and week – this dashboard would help me stay grounded and organized on the web. When I publish a new article, I would automatically update it in the various the places listing my citations, then write a quick tweet about it, check for news articles about it etc. Or I may see a comment on LinkedIn about a scientific article that could be useful for a paper I am writing. The comment in one column of the dashboard would be linked to the article, and the PDF posted on ResearchGate may be in another column of the dashboard. I take the PDF, export the citation to my library and pop it into the paper I am working on, in a series of smooth, integrated steps.

This HootSuite for Prof 2.0 could be a simple tool to enable the shift from a paper-native academia to a web-native academia by leveraging and extending information, interaction and discussion.

Originally published in University Affairs Careers Cafe.

How to peer review: skill-building in a grad classes

How to peer review: skill-building in a grad classes

I teach how to peer-review in graduate class because I think it is a core skill for any professional.  I first demystify peer-reviewing and academic journals, and answer questions that all students have about these topics that they have heard about but rarely learn about using this:

peer review

Nicholos and Gordon EOS, 2011

I describe my personal experience as a manuscript submitter, reviewer and associate editor. And then I outline the structure and types of questions to ask during a peer review (both listed below), and challenge them with three, increasingly difficult steps to learn how to peer review:

  • first, peer review already published papers (which is surprisingly hard since it is already well edited but this is useful as practice and since it is impersonal).
  • Second, peer review an open access manuscript that is currently in review (i.e. HESSD  or other open access journal). These can be actually submitted to the journal or not.
  • Third, they peer-review eachother`s term papers before final submission of paper to me as part of the grade.

At each step myself or a TA gives them feedback and evaluates their peer reviews.

Good structure for a peer-review

  • Short summary (1-2 sentences) and general assessment of novelty/contribution. Give the author(s) a few compliments here….everyone likes to eat the good-bad-good sandwich rather than just the bad sandwich.
  • Discuss major concerns or suggestions for authors. Aim for positive criticism here.
  • Recommend course of action: reject, accept with major revisions or accept with minor revisions.
  • Document minor concerns with explicit page and line numbers.

Good questions to ponder:
Contributions and Audience:
What are the important contributions of this paper?
Does the paper make a significant, new contribution to this research area?
Who is the intended audience?

Technical soundness:
Are the methods fully described?
Is the mathematical/theoretical development (if any) complete and accurate?
Is the approach, experimental design, review or statistical analysis appropriate?

Organization and Style:
Is the paper a description of an experiment or concept or a synthesis of previous work?
Is the paper well written and organized?
What is the hypothesis, objectives or goals put forth?Are all the tables and figures necessary?
Can the paper be shortened?

Are the interpretations of data and results justified?
What are the major conclusions? Are they significant? Are they interesting? What remains answered?

Your reactions:
Did you gain something from the paper (be specific)?
How does the paper relate to other topics discussed in class?Are such questions and/or methods relevant to your own research?