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Urban water underground: How green infrastructure makes it visible

Urban water underground: How green infrastructure makes it visible

Post by Theodore Lim, assistant professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Virginia Tech. He researches the socio-hydrology of green infrastructure planning and implementation.


In order for people to care about something, to value it, they have to be able to see it and experience it. This point should not be taken lightly. So much about decision-making and policy-making depends on how much public support can be organized around any given issue. So, when it comes to protecting the water resources that sustain society and the natural environment, it is perhaps unsurprising that groundwater is the part of water cycle that most folks tend to ignore.

Historically, urbanization has made it difficult for residents to experience key parts of the water cycle. In Philadelphia, for example, in order to improve sanitation, reduce flooding, and make way for the regular street grid, dozens of streams were channeled into brick sewers that were then buried under roads to make transportation routes more efficient and the city easier to navigate. Today, these historical streams are literally buried underground, and still carry a mix of raw sewage and stormwater runoff, that overflows into neighboring creeks and streams when it rains.

Sewering Mill Creek in West Philadelphia, 1883. Image Source: http://www.phillyh2o.org.

Green infrastructure is an approach to urban water management that reintroduces key parts of the hydrological cycle to the visible urban environment. Green infrastructure can involve surface water, through daylighting streams, but it can also means removing concrete and asphalt, to allow water to trickle slowly into the ground, be soaked up by plant roots, and evaporated back into the air, or to recharge deeper groundwater tables. An example of this is a rain garden, or bioinfiltration facility, which intercepts rainfall with vegetated land, as an aesthetic and low-maintenance alternative to conventional drainage systems.

Bioinfiltration facility installed in a residential neighborhood in Washington, D.C. (Photo by author)

How do urban residents “see” these important elements of the hydrological cycle? One answer is: by their recognizing them as “infrastructures” for modern cities — elements that provide critical services, in addition to environmental amenities. Plants and restored soils are not just “nice to have,” they help moderate surface temperatures, protect water quality, and support biological function. Public investment in street tree planting has been shown to increase pedestrian activity, public health, and property values. Green infrastructure programs in cities can also be integrated with climate action plans, sustainability initiatives, and parks and recreation programs; such programs often attract businesses and residents with their progressive attitudes.

Urban residents can learn about the “ecosystem services” associated with hydrological cycle improvements thanks to scientific signage, infographics, partnerships between  environmental non-profits and community outreach, programs run by municipal water managers (water/wastewater utilities, departments of environmental protection, or stormwater districts). Most of all, residents learn from each other and are more likely to adopt environmentally friendly behaviors when they are surrounded to neighbors who do the same.

Stormdrain art in Philadelphia, designed by children in Philadelphia public schools (Photo by author)

Green infrastructure monitoring and signage in Chicago. Image: https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/chicago-sensors-green-infrastructure-study

Restoring hydrological function within urban areas can be seen as a microcosm of larger-scale environmental policy-making. On the regional scale, “green infrastructure” can refer to the large swaths of undeveloped land in a natural state, or to working lands, such as those used for timber production or agriculture, which all provide critical ecosystem services to society. Environmental planners who work at the state or regional level or with land trust organizations, might use policies, economic incentives, and land regulations to protect these landscapes from low density suburban sprawl or urbanization. However, on both urban and regional scales, the decision-making about land use, management, and development is heavily dependent on co-operation between diverse stakeholders, and relies on a mutual understanding of the value of natural environments for various communities..

Urban and environmental planners tell stories that bring together multiple voices in collaboration.  These stories also give the historical and social context to decision-making around environmental systems, which is vital to ensure equitable outcomes. Unfortunately, despite advances in integrated modeling and the scientific knowledge of complex interrelations between water and society, decision-making still falls back on heuristics and rules-of-thumb. A highly relevant question therefore is: how can we integrate groundwater science into more robust city and regional-scale participatory planning, that is equitable and implementable? The answer will hopefully lead us to a strategy where urban and environmental infrastructures visibly advance the well-being of communities.

Quest for Sustainability of Heavily Stressed Aquifers at Regional to Global Scales: Upcoming Chapman Conference

Quest for Sustainability of Heavily Stressed Aquifers at Regional to Global Scales: Upcoming Chapman Conference

Abstracts are due soon (July 10th) for the upcoming Chapman conference on groundwater sustainability on Oct 21-24, 2019 in Valencia, Spain. Hopefully this will be a rare opportunity where many of the leading people on groundwater sustainability will gather with a shared intention to share, discuss and debate scientific advances and encourage a pivot towards groundwater sustainability.

A range of prestigious invited speakers will provide diverse perspectives on groundwater sustainability. We have limited travel funding from the NSF – priority will be given to US-based students and early career researchers (pre-tenure faculty and postdoctoral fellows). Please pencil this in the conference date and submit an abstract here, and pass this along to anyone who might be interested!

WaterUnderground founder Tom Gleeson is part of the Chapman conference organizing committee and is leading an effort to draft ‘The Valencia Statement and Action Agenda on Global Groundwater Sustainability’. Please get in touch with Tom  if you are interested in contributing!

 

Data sharing: an update on new and existing initiatives

Data sharing: an update on new and existing initiatives

Post by Anne Van Loon, Gemma Coxon, and Bentje Brauns.


Last year, Anne Van Loon wrote about data sharing initiatives in hydrology (“Data drought or data flood? 28 May 2018). This post gives an update on existing and new initiatives.

CAMELS (Catchment Attributes and MEteorology for Large-sample Studies) 

The CAMELS datasets are expanding: from the United States and Chile to Great Britain and Australia.  The CAMELS-GB dataset will consist of hydro-meteorological timeseries and catchment attributes for 671 catchments across Great Britain and is expected to be released on the Environmental Information Data Centre later this year.

The Groundwater Drought Initiative

The Groundwater Drought Initiative is collecting more and more groundwater level data and groundwater drought impacts. The Initiative is very happy to welcome new partners and supporters from as far East as Ukraine and as far South as Albania, increasing the number of participating countries and countries currently considering to participate to 23 (see map). Additionally, a first getting-to-know-each-other & info meeting was held at EGU19 with participants from Austria, Belgium, Canada, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, UK, Ukraine, and Switzerland. If you are from Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovakia or any of the other yellow countries on the map below and you have groundwater data (or contacts in organisations who could help) or you are interested in groundwater drought, please contact Bentje Brauns (benaun@bgs.ac.uk).

The IAHS Panta Rhei Working Group on Large Sample Hydrology

The IAHS Panta Rhei focus on efforts to facilitate the production and exchange of datasets worldwide.  This year at EGU, the group organised a splinter meeting to discuss the generation of large sample catchment datasets in the cloud and a session (HS2.5.2 Large-sample hydrology: characterising and understanding hydrological diversity) that showcased several recent data- and model-based efforts on large-sample hydrology from new global datasets to large multi-model ensembles.  If you are interested in being updated on the activities of the group then please contact Gemma Coxon (gemma.coxon@bristol.ac.uk) to be added to the mailing list.

There seems to be a lot going on in the world of hydrological data sharing! To share your own story or initiative, please leave a reply below.



Anne Van Loon (website | @AnneVanLoon) is a Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography  in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham.

Gemma Coxon (website) is a Postdoctoral Research Associate and Lecturer in Hydrology in the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol.

Bentje Brauns (website) is a Hydrogeologist at the British Geological Survey.

Video: Linking water planetary boundaries and UN Sustainable Development Goals

Video: Linking water planetary boundaries and UN Sustainable Development Goals

Water Underground creator Tom Gleeson prepared this quick research video (with no more than a toothbrush, a file holder, and a doughnut, in one take!) for the Ripples project meeting at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, that was held in April. In this video, he talks about using doughnut economics for linking water planetary boundaries and UN Sustainable Development Goals.

 


Curious about why a toothbrush features in the video? For the answer, you’ll need to watch Tom’s previous research video from last summer (see below), on “Revisiting the planetary boundary for water”.

Have you ever wondered if groundwater is connected to climate?

Have you ever wondered if groundwater is connected to climate?

Post by Tom Gleeson Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering at the University of Victoria.


‘Groundwater-surface water interactions’ has become standard hydrologic lexicon and a perennial favorite session title at various conferences… but how often do you hear the phrase ‘groundwater-climate interactions’?

A group of hydrologists, hydrogeologists, atmospheric scientists and geodesists that met in Taiwan this week would say ‘not enough!’ We met to discuss how groundwater, the slow-moving grandparent of the hydrologic cycle interacts with the atmosphere, the fast-moving toddler. The 2nd international workshop on Impacts of Groundwater in Earth system Models (IGEM), was a follow-up of a 2016 workshop in Paris in 2016 (and part of a the bilateral French-Taiwanese IGEM project).

Sessions were focused around a few themes:

  • Groundwater use and its impacts
  • Groundwater representation, assimilation and evaluation in climate models
  • Remote Sensing and in-situ observations on groundwater
  • Groundwater-climate interactions with a special focus on Nebraska

 

And in the afternoons we convened discussion groups focused on ‘groundwater representation in continental to global hydrologic models’ and ‘groundwater-climate interactions’ and arguably just as importantly we ate lots of great food including an awesome fusion dinner and dumplings at the famous Din Tai Fung.

I would love to say that we could provide you with a simple, robust answer to the leading question of how and where groundwater is connected to climate – a holy grail of Earth System science. But like all good questions, the answer at least right now is ‘a little bit in some places, and it depends how you look at it’. We discussed the first enticing but preliminary results of potential hotspots of groundwater-climate interactions, expounded on the importance to water sustainability and dissected vadose zone parameterizations in land surface models but the quest for this holy grail goes on… We plan to meet again in a few years in Saskatchewan and maybe have a few more answers. Do you want to join us on this holy grail quest, and maybe end up making ‘groundwater-climate interactions’ more standard lexicon?

P.S. Thanks to Min-Hui Lo and his group at National Taiwan University for the excellent hospitality and organization!

P.S.S. Just in case it goes viral, the term ‘baddest-ass model’ was first used by Jay Famiglietti (see below).

Celestial groundwater – the subsurface plumbing for extraterrestrial life support

Celestial groundwater – the subsurface plumbing for extraterrestrial life support

Post by Kevin Befus Assistant Professor in Civil and Architectural Engineering at the University of Wyoming.


Have you ever taken a walk on the beach during a lowering (ebbing) tide and see mini-rivers grow and create beautiful drainage patterns before your eyes? These short-lived groundwater seepage features (Fig. 1A) are tiny (and fast) analogs of how groundwater has shaped some parts of Mars! It appears that groundwater loosening sediments can lead to all sorts of scales of erosion on both Earth and Mars.

Figure 1. A) Beach drainage pattern on the order of 1 meter (Source: https://epod.usra.edu/blog/2017/01/beach-drainage.html), B) Martian “alcoves” suggesting groundwater seepage [1].

Mars is not currently a friendly place for water to exist at the surface or even the subsurface, but an abundance of photographic and topographic evidence point to there having been the right conditions for active groundwater flow on Mars.

But isn’t Mars too cold for liquid water? The answer is generally a strong yes for the past few billion years, but amazingly enough, there appears to have been some local places where groundwater discharged to the Martian surface and left behind telltale signs.

Because Mars is cold at its land surface (mean surface temperature of -50 C with daily swings from 0 C to -100 C) with a thinner atmosphere than Earth’s, water on the Martian surface can exist as ice (as in the polar ice cap), but sublimation and evaporation would quickly wick any water near the surface. So, liquid water on Mars needs both more pressure and a good bit of heat for mobile groundwater based on the phase diagram below (circle with M shows the present day Martian surface conditions).

Figure 2. Phase diagram showing average conditions at the planetary surface for Earth (E) near the triple point, and atmospheric conditions for the frozen Mars (M) and vapor-rich Venus (V). source: http://www1.lsbu.ac.uk/water/water_phase_diagram.html#intr2; License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/uk/)

It turns out that the most expansive evidence of liquid groundwater on Mars comes from deep at the bottom of craters (…deeper than 5 km!), where the Martian geothermal gradient (~10 C/km [Michalski et al.2013]) heats up to the point where groundwater systems, probably made up of brines, can seep across the crater walls. Without the craters, the groundwater wouldn’t have anywhere to discharge, but extraterrestrial hydrogeologists (really based on the geomorphology, but using E.T. hydrogeology principles) have identified numerous craters with groundwater seepage erosional patterns (Figure 1). The question remains open on how connected the Martian “aquifers” could be, or if the craters represent only local flow systems.

With liquid groundwater transporting the chemical-rich waters from deeper geothermal areas, the conditions could be right for supporting a deep Martian biosphere. Buried in under the Martian ice, soil, and rock microbial life could have evolved in the subterranean shelter from cosmic radiation. Groundwater flow, potentially related to geothermal conditions, could then have served as the conveyor belt for energy-rich molecules to feed microbial life in the subsurface (and still could?).

So far, Earth is the only celestial body in our solar system with an active water-hydrologic cycle, making us the lucky green planet. But, there could be a methane-based hydrologic cycle on Titan with “methanifers” as methane aquifers! For more information on extraterrestrial hydrogeology, Baker et al. (2005) provides a great overview of the planetary, lunar, and exo-planetary potential for water and groundwater, loosely summarized in this table.

At the moment, Earthlings don’t know that much yet about the paleo-hydrologic processes on Mars. But with new boots…I mean wheels…on the ground in two water-focused locations, new clues could start rolling in on Martian groundwater. The recently-arrived InSight lander will probe the Martian subsurface by drilling 5 m deep and listen for acoustic signals for even more information on the interior of Mars. The next Mars Rover is scheduled to take flight in 2020 for the Jezero Crater, where a river delta could help unravel the water-life story of Mars. And could have some groundwater surprises! At only about 1 km deep, the focus in mainly on tracking down signs of life and unravelling surface hydrologic and erosional processes on Mars, but a long list of expected outcomes does show the mission will keep an eye out for evidence of groundwater activities. Keep your feet grounded, eyes in the sky, and visions of Martian groundwater flying high and drilling low!

References
[1] Malin, M. C., and K. S. Edgett (2000), Evidence for Recent Groundwater Seepage and Surface Runoff on Mars, Science, 288(5475), 2330–2335, doi:10.1126/science.288.5475.2330.
[2] Michalski, J. R., J. Cuadros, P. B. Niles, J. Parnell, A. Deanne Rogers, and S. P. Wright (2013), Groundwater activity on Mars and implications for a deep biosphere, Nat. Geosci., 6(2), 133–138, doi:10.1038/ngeo1706.
[3] Stofan, E. R. et al. (2007), The lakes of Titan, Nature, 445(7123), 61–64, doi:10.1038/nature05438.
[4] Baker, V. R., J. M. Dohm, A. G. Fairén, T. P. A. Ferré, J. C. Ferris, H. Miyamoto, and D. Schulze-Makuch (2005), Extraterrestrial hydrogeology, Hydrogeol. J., 13(1), 51–68, doi:10.1007/s10040-004-0433-2.
[5] Robinson, K. L., and G. J. Taylor (2014), Heterogeneous distribution of water in the Moon, Nat. Geosci., 7(6), 401–408, doi:10.1038/ngeo2173.
[6] Jurac, S., M. A. McGrath, R. E. Johnson, J. D. Richardson, V. M. Vasyliunas, and A. Eviatar (2002), Saturn: Search for a missing water source, Geophys. Res. Lett., 29(24), 25-1-25–4, doi:10.1029/2002GL015855.

Kevin Befus leads the groundwater hydrology group in the Civil and Architectural Engineering Department at the University of Wyoming. With his research group, he studies how groundwater systems respond to hydrologic conditions over glacial timescales and in mountainous and coastal environments.  You can follow along with Kevin’s research through any of the links below:

Personal Webpage | Twitter Research Group Page | UW Faculty Page

 

 

 

 

 


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Water: underground source for billions could take more than a century to respond fully to climate change

Water: underground source for billions could take more than a century to respond fully to climate change

WaterUnderground post by Mark O. Cuthbert, Cardiff University; Kevin M. Befus, University of Wyoming, and Tom Gleeson, University of Victoria


Groundwater is the biggest store of accessible freshwater in the world, providing billions of people with water for drinking and crop irrigation. That’s all despite the fact that most will never see groundwater at its source – it’s stored naturally below ground within the Earth’s pores and cracks.

While climate change makes dramatic changes to weather and ecosystems on the surface, the impact on the world’s groundwater is likely to be delayed, representing a challenge for future generations.

Groundwater stores are replenished by rainfall at the surface in a process known as “recharge”. Unless intercepted by human-made pumps, this water eventually flows by gravity to “discharge” in streams, lakes, springs, wetlands and the ocean. A balance is naturally maintained between rates of groundwater recharge and discharge, and the amount of water stored underground.

Groundwater discharge provides consistent flows of freshwater to ecosystems, providing a reliable water source which helped early human societies survive and evolve.

When changes in climate or land use affect the rate of groundwater recharge, the depths of water tables and rates of groundwater discharge must also change to find a new balance.

Groundwater is critical to agriculture worldwide. Rungroj Youbang/Shutterstock

The time it takes for this new equilibrium to be found – known as the groundwater response time – ranges from months to tens of thousands of years, depending on the hydraulic properties of the subsurface and how connected groundwater is to changes at the land surface.

Estimates of response times for individual aquifers – the valuable stores of groundwater which humans exploit with pumps – have been made previously, but the global picture of how quickly or directly Earth’s groundwater will respond to climate change in the coming years and decades has been uncertain. To investigate this, we mapped the connection between groundwater and the land surface and how groundwater response time varies across the world.

The long memory of groundwater

We found that below approximately three quarters of the Earth’s surface, groundwater response times last over 100 years. Recharge happens unevenly around the world so this actually represents around half of the active groundwater flow on Earth.

This means that in these areas, any changes to recharge currently occurring due to climate change will only be fully realised in changes to groundwater levels and discharge to surface ecosystems more than 100 years in the future.

We also found that, in general, the driest places on Earth have longer groundwater response times than more humid areas, meaning that groundwater stores beneath deserts take longer to fully respond to changes in recharge.

Groundwater stores are ‘recharged’ by rainfall and ‘discharge’ into surface water bodies such as lakes. Studio BKK/Shutterstock. Edited by author.

In wetter areas where the water table is closer to the surface, groundwater tends to intersect the land surface more frequently, discharging to streams or lakes.

This means there are shorter distances between recharge and discharge areas helping groundwater stores come to equilibrium more quickly in wetter landscapes.

Hence, some groundwater systems in desert regions like the Sahara have response times of more than 10,000 years. Groundwater there is still responding to changes in the climate which occurred at the end of the last glacial period, when that region was much wetter.


Read MoreThe global race for groundwater speeds up to feed agriculture’s growing needs


In contrast, many low lying equatorial regions, such as the Amazon and Congo basins, have very short response times and will re-equilibrate on timescales of less than a decade, largely keeping pace with climate changes to the water cycle.

Geology also plays an important role in governing groundwater responses to climate variability. For example, the two most economically important aquifers in the UK are the limestone chalk and the Permo-Triassic sandstone.

Despite both being in the UK and existing in the same climate, they have distinctly different hydraulic properties and, therefore, groundwater response times. Chalk responds in months to years while the sandstone aquifers take years to centuries.

Global map of groundwater response times. Cuthbert et al. (2019)/Nature Climate Change, Author provided.

In comparison to surface water bodies such as rivers and lakes which respond very quickly and visibly to changes in climate, the hidden nature of groundwater means that these vast lag times are easily forgotten. Nevertheless, the slow pace of groundwater is very important for managing freshwater supplies.

The long response time of the UK’s Permo-Triassic sandstone aquifers means that they may provide excellent buffers during drought in the short term. Relying on groundwater from these aquifers may seem to have little impact on their associated streams and wetlands, but diminishing flows and less water could become more prevalent as time goes on.

This is important to remember when making decisions about what rates of groundwater abstraction are sustainable. Groundwater response times may be much longer than human lifetimes, let alone political and electoral cycles.The Conversation


Post written by:

Mark O. Cuthbert, Research Fellow & Lecturer in Groundwater Science, Cardiff University;

Mark Cuthbert is a Research Fellow and Lecturer in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. Mark’s work currently focuses on coupled hydrological-climate process dynamics in order to: understand groundwater sustainability; improve interpretations of terrestrial paleoclimate proxy archives;  and understand how Quaternary paleoenvironments influenced human evolution.

 

Kevin M. Befus, Assistant professor, University of Wyoming; 

Kevin Befus leads the groundwater hydrology group in the Civil and Architectural Engineering Department at the University of Wyoming. With his research group, he studies how groundwater systems respond to hydrologic conditions over glacial timescales and in mountainous and coastal environments.

 

 

Tom Gleeson, Associate professor, University of Victoria

Tom Gleeson leads the Groundwater Science and Sustainability group in the Civil Engineering Department at the University of Victoria.  His research interests include groundwater sustainability, mega-scale groundwater systems, groundwater recharge and discharge and fluid flow around geologic structures. Tom is also the founder of this blog, WaterUnderground.

 

 


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Groundwater and drought

Groundwater and drought

Post by Andy Baker, Professor researching groundwater, caves, past climate, organic carbon and more at the University of New South Wales, in Australia.

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Drought is in the news here in New South Wales, Australia. But how are rainfall, drought and groundwater related?

First, we need to understand what drought is. Is it a water shortage? Or a lack of rainfall? Or something else? In the USA, the National Climatic Data Center define drought as the ‘absence of water’. They identify four types of drought: 1) meteorological drought (a lack of rainfall), 2) hydrological drought (a loss of surface water or groundwater supply), 3) agricultural drought (a water shortage leading to crop failure), and 4) socioeconomic drought (where demand for water exceeds availability).

Here in Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology defines drought as ‘a prolonged, abnormally dry period when the amount of available water is insufficient to meet our normal use’.  They add that ‘drought is not simply low rainfall; if it was, much of inland Australia would be in almost perpetual drought’. Much of inland Australia depends on surface and groundwater for their economy. If those regions experienced a groundwater drought, it would therefore be bad news.

Let’s look at New South Wales again. It covers both coastal regions, such as Sydney (where I am writing this), as well as a vast interior (where most of my research is based). The Bureau of Meteorology produces meteorological drought maps based on rainfall amounts over recent months. The current map shows large areas of New South Wales are experiencing rainfall totals that are in the lowest 10 percentile (‘serious’), lowest 5 percentile (‘severe’) and the lowest on record.

How does this deficiency in rainfall affect groundwater? And is there a groundwater drought? Long-term measurement of groundwater levels in boreholes (also called wells, depending on your country) can tell you whether water levels are rising or falling. Wells integrate groundwater recharge that comes from both surface water (e.g. rivers that lose water through their base) and from rainfall (also called diffuse recharge).

Real-time data of water levels from telemetered boreholes can provide timely information on groundwater drought (for example, here for NSW). Satellite products such as GRACE, which can infer groundwater levels from small changes in gravity over time, can provide large scale spatial coverage. Modelling products can calculate water balance from meteorological, soil and land use data.

The current Bureau of Meteorology map shows that deep soil moisture is very much below average across New South Wales. If we assume that deep soil moisture levels are only determined by rainfall recharge, then from this we would expect no rainfall recharge of groundwater to be occurring over large parts of New South Wales. From one location, Wellington, close to the middle of the drought region, we have the measured evidence from inside a cave that shows that rainfall recharge hasn’t occurred for 18 months (and counting).

Since 2011, forty loggers have been measuring the water percolating through the unsaturated zone of the limestone at a depth of 25 m at Wellington Caves. This winter, I did the latest download of the data. Or rather, the lack of data, as only four drip water sources were still active. Conditions in the cave are the driest since we started collecting data in 2011.

Drip rates have been on the decline since the winter of 2016. But note the decline temporarily slowed in 2017, starting in early April. That is the response to the last time there was rainfall recharge there – owing to almost 70 mm of rain falling over three days in late March 2017. Eighteen months ago.

In the inland of New South Wales, it is clear that in dryland farming regions, the lack of rainfall has now led to an agricultural drought. In contrast, latest available data from our groundwater monitoring networks shows that there is currently no decline in groundwater levels in the major irrigation districts, which is where river recharge occurs. But for our dryland farmers, and ecosystems that rely on rainfall recharge, the karst drip data show that the groundwater drought has hit. Australia is often called a country of drought and flooding rains. Flooding rains are what we need next so that we also have some river recharge to replenish our groundwater resource.

 

Wellington, NSW. July 2018. This is the UNSW Research Station, normally stocked and cropped, but not this year.

How deep does groundwater go? Mining (dark) data from the depths

How deep does groundwater go? Mining (dark) data from the depths

Post by Kevin Befus, Assistant Professor at the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Wyoming, in the United States.

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3D geologic data can be hard to come by, and can be even more difficult to combine into a continuous dataset. The cross-sections shown here are directly from 3D groundwater models that I compiled [Befus et al., 2017], primarily from USGS groundwater models, for the U.S. East Coast. I kept each of the regional domains (different color swaths on the map) separate, since I ran into the issue of “border discontinuities” between different models where naming conventions and hydrostratigraphic structure didn’t match up. Kh is the horizontal hydraulic conductivity.

We’ve all been asked (or do the asking), “where does your water come from?” This is a fundamental question for establishing a series of additional questions that can ultimately help define strategies for valuing and protecting a particular water resource.

For groundwater, we could phrase this question differently, and I often do when talking to well owners: How deep is your well? If I get an answer to this, then I can dive into additional questions that can help define more about the local groundwater resource: How deep is the well screen? How long is the screen? Do you know what the water level in the well is? Has it changed over some given time? Seasonally?

These are all useful questions, and they serve to begin establishing the hydraulic conditions of a particular aquifer. I ask these whenever I can.

To do this at a larger scale, we can turn to various governmental agencies that regulate groundwater resources and/or water well drilling and often collect and store groundwater data (e.g., www.waterqualitydata.us/, http://nlog.nl/en/data, http://gin.gw-info.net/service/api_ngwds:gin2/en/gin.html, or http://www.bgs.ac.uk/research/groundwater/datainfo/NWRA.html). There is a wealth of information out there internationally on wells when they were drilled and where the driller first hit water. These driller logs can provide a snapshot in time of the water table elevation and can be extremely useful for tracking hydrologic variability [Perrone and Jasechko, 2017], extracting hydraulic parameters [Bayless et al., 2017],  and for testing model results [Fan et al., 2013]. Unfortunately for us earthy nerds, some governments have restricted access to well installation data for either certain types of wells (i.e., municipal) or for all wells, usually for privacy or safety concerns.

Back to the original question. How deep is groundwater? I keep this question broad. We can usually answer this question for particular areas where we have access to the right data, but for large parts of the globe, and potentially underneath you right now, we cannot answer this question. The “right data” for a hydrogeologist is some form of information on geologic/stratigraphic layer (or lack of layering) that can be tied to the rock properties. For a surficial, unconfined aquifer, this can be relatively easy, but when we start stacking several geologic units on top of each other or start actually using the groundwater, this question of how deep groundwater is becomes tricky. We could qualify this question by asking how deep “usable” groundwater is, which, of course, depends on our definition of usable water for a specific purpose. Or, we can point (or integrate) through the Earth’s crust, core, and right back to its crust and calculate the huge value of how much water is “in the ground” (and minerals)[Bodnar et al., 2013]. And I haven’t even brought up porosity yet! Or specific storage!

A example of a great public 3D interactive web viewer (https://wateratlas.net/) that integrates groundwater data, geological information, and well construction details produced by the Centre for Coal Seam Gas at the University of Queensland (https://ccsg.centre.uq.edu.au/), which is supported by the University of Queensland and industry partners. For more information on this water atlas, please contact Dr. Sue Vink (s.vink@smi.uq.edu.au) or Alexandra Wolhuter (a.wolhuter@uq.edu.au).

Don’t worry. I won’t go there. I want to harass/encourage the hydro[geo]logic community to get serious about sharing their hydrogeologic data. This does mean metadata (do I hear a collective groan?), but metadata and data management plans are increasingly required to secure funding. CUAHSI’s Hydroshare site (www.hydroshare.org) provides a platform uploading hydro models, and the U.S. Geological Survey has developed a slick web system for exploring hydrogeologic models. But, I’d like to take this further, or at least get a service like that going for anyone who wants to share their models. There is a wealth of crustal structure data out there, and groundwater models are unique in often containing some representation of three-dimensional geology/hydrostratigraphy along with Earth properties. There are some great deterministic, published datasets and models of global hydrogeology [De Graaf et al., 2015; Huscroft et al., 2018], but we can do better. Wouldn’t it be great to have a centralized database to extract an ensemble of hydrogeologic structure used in previous regional or local studies? How about be able to draw a model boundary on a web interface and extract 3D structure for your next model? And compare cross-sections between models in the same area? Want to start fitting your puzzle pieces into the international hydrogeologic puzzle? The question now becomes, how do we do it? A “DigitalCrust” has been proposed [Fan et al., 2015], but is not yet in reach.

Join the movement of a “Digital Earth” [Gore, 1998]!

Here are some examples, initiatives, and free 3D [hydro]geology resources to get you started:

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Kevin Befus leads the groundwater hydrology group in the Civil and Architectural Engineering Department at the University of Wyoming. With his research group, he studies how groundwater systems respond to hydrologic conditions over glacial timescales and in mountainous and coastal environments.  You can follow along with Kevin’s research through any of the links below:

Personal WebpageTwitter Research Group Page | UW Faculty Page

 

 

 

 

 

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References

Bayless, E. R., L. D. Arihood, H. W. Reeves, B. J. S. Sperl, S. L. Qi, V. E. Stipe, and A. R. Bunch (2017), Maps and Grids of Hydrogeologic Information Created from Standardized Water-Well Driller’s Records of the Glaciated United States, U.S. Geol. Surv. Sci. Investig. Report2, 20155105, 34, doi:10.3133/sir20155105.

Befus, K. M., K. D. Kroeger, C. G. Smith, and P. W. Swarzenski (2017), The Magnitude and Origin of Groundwater Discharge to Eastern U.S. and Gulf of Mexico Coastal Waters, Geophys. Res. Lett., 44(20), 10,396-10,406, doi:10.1002/2017GL075238.

Bodnar, R. J., T. Azbej, S. P. Becker, C. Cannatelli, A. Fall, and M. J. Severs (2013), Whole Earth geohydrologic cycle, from the clouds to the core: The distribution of water in the dynamic Earth system, Geol. Soc. Am. Spec. Pap., 500, 431–461, doi:10.1130/2013.2500(13).

Fan, Y., H. Li, and G. Miguez-Macho (2013), Global patterns of groundwater table depth, Science, 339(6122), 940–943, doi:10.1126/science.1229881.

Fan, Y. et al. (2015), DigitalCrust – a 4D data system of material properties for transforming research on crustal fluid flow, Geofluids, 15(1–2), 372–379, doi:10.1111/gfl.12114.

Gore, A. (1998), The Digital Earth: Understanding our planet in the 21st Century, Aust. Surv., 43(2), 89–91, doi:10.1080/00050326.1998.10441850.

De Graaf, I. E. M., E. H. Sutanudjaja, L. P. H. Van Beek, and M. F. P. Bierkens (2015), A high-resolution global-scale groundwater model, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19(2), 823–837, doi:10.5194/hess-19-823-2015.

Huscroft, J., T. Gleeson, J. Hartmann, and J. Börker (2018), Compiling and Mapping Global Permeability of the Unconsolidated and Consolidated Earth: GLobal HYdrogeology MaPS 2.0 (GLHYMPS 2.0), Geophys. Res. Lett., 45(4), 1897–1904, doi:10.1002/2017GL075860.

Perrone, D., and S. Jasechko (2017), Dry groundwater wells in the western United States, Environ. Res. Lett., 12(10), 104002, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aa8ac0.

 

Happy birthday plate tectonics!

Happy birthday plate tectonics!

Post by Elco Luijendijk, a junior lecturer, and David Hindle, lecturer and head of geodynamic modelling, both at the Department of Structural Geology and Geodynamics at the University of Göttingen, in Germany.

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As we’ve firmly moved into 2018, we can say happy 50th birthday to one of the most revolutionary scientific theories of the last century: plate tectonics. Here we discuss the birth of plate tectonics and what it means for hydrogeology.

Plate tectonic theory explains the how the Earth’s surface is formed and how it consists of rigid plates on top of a layer that is called the asthenosphere and that behaves like a slow-moving liquid. The plates move around, collide and subduct beneath each other. Plate tectonics successfully explains many features of the surface of the Earth, such as mountain belts at the collision zones of plates, ocean basins at places where plates move apart and the concentration of earthquakes near plate boundaries. For instance it is quite easy to recognize the boundaries of tectonic plates if you look at the earthquake distribution in Figure 2.

Plate tectonics birthday cake, showing one tasty tectonic plate (left) subducting below another (right). Source: http://sara-geologicventures.blogspot.de/2012/05/cake-subduction-zone.html

Actually, depending on your definition either 2017 or 2018 is the 50th birthday of plate tectonics. The story why this is the case is a bit complex. Jason Morgan first presented the theory at meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in 1967. However, the first paper on the mathematical principle of the movement of tectonic plates was published in the same year by McKenzie and Parker (1967). Jason Morgan’s paper (Morgan 1968) is the first one to clearly demonstrate the global geometry of all the major tectonic plates, but had got delayed by peer-review for over a year. The development of plate tectonics involved many scientist and several earlier theories, such as seafloor spreading (which showed that ocean basins were split in two halves that were moving apart). There are surprisingly few books available on the history of plate tectonics, but one that is definitely an enjoyable read is “Plate Tectonics: An Insider’s History Of The Modern Theory Of The Earth” (Oreskes 2003). It is a fascinating collection of stories by most of the scientist that were involved in the development of the theory.

Figure 2 Plate boundaries on earth, with earthquakes > M6.5, since the year 2000, and with selected relative motion arrows for plate pairs – the motions shown are always those between adjacent plates. Double arrows imply spreading – moving apart of plates, mostly on oceanic ridges, while single arrows imply either strike slip motion (California and the San Andreas fault for instance) or convergence (either subduction of an oceanic plate under a continental one – under the Andes mountains in South America as an example, or collision of two continental plates as between India and Eurasia in the Himalayas for instance). Earthquakes are clearly concentrated on plate boundaries. This map was made using GMT (http://gmt.soest.hawaii.edu/).

Ok, that is all very interesting, but you could ask the question: what does plate tectonics have to do with Water Underground?

In some regards not much. We can often ignore plate tectonics when looking at groundwater flow. Hydrogeologists tend to study groundwater supply and pollution on human time and space scales. Because plates move very slowly (up to tens of mm per year), on short timescales the subsurface can be regarded as static layer of rocks that does not move or deform. However, most of the groundwater on our planet is old, and has infiltrated to the subsurface ten thousand years ago or earlier (Jasechko et al. 2017). The oldest groundwater that we know is 1.5 billion years old and was found at 2 km depth in a mine in near Timmins, Canada (Holland et al. 2013). Over its long history it was part of ancient and long disintegrated continents and the plate that holds this water moved from an area south of the equator to its present position.

Plate tectonics affect groundwater. Especially in deeper (several kilometers) parts of the crust, the groundwater pressure, salinity and composition that we encounter today are often the result of a long geological history. Over time, sediments were added and removed by erosion, layers were compacted, folded and/or faulted, which affected groundwater flow and its interaction with the rocks that contain it.

The reverse is also true: groundwater affects plate tectonics. This is perhaps most important near mid-ocean ridges, where two plates move apart, and new crust is being added to these plates all the time. There is abundant evidence for strong circulation of seawater through the subsurface, which cools the hot new crust, reacts with the rocks around it and changes the chemistry of the crust and the ocean. The most visible evidence are so-called black smokers (Figure 3), where hot (350 ˚C) water discharges into the ocean through fissures in the crust and carries along black plumes full of dissolved minerals. At the opposite end of the plates, the presence of water underground changes how easy or hard it is for one plate to subduct beneath another in a plate collision zone, as was discussed at a recent AGU conference (link to session), 50 years after the AGU conference where Jason Morgan presented his theory. On a smaller scale, faults that enable the stacking of rocks in plate collision zones (mountain belts) or the breaking apart of rocks in rift zones (where plates split up), are dependent on the presence of groundwater. Even before the advent of plate tectonics Hubbert and Rubey (1959), showed that water in fault zones can act as a kind of lubricant that enables two adjacent blocks of rocks to move past each other. Because this movement gives rise to earthquakes, groundwater may also play an important role in the earthquake cycle. This role is still heavily debated and is researched by drilling deep wells in faults at plate boundaries, such as at the San Andreas fault in California (Zoback et al. 2010) or the Nankai through (Hammerschmidt et al. 2013).

Without sufficient groundwater plate tectonics may not exist on our planet. The movement of tectonic plates depends on how easily the rocks below these plates can deform. At these depths, high pressures and temperatures promote the slow deformation of the crystals that make up the rocks at this depth. The mechanisms that cause the deformation of crystals are termed “creep”. Whether or not the rock contains water (in the form of -OH groups) affects creep: generally, “wet” minerals are up to a factor of 10 “softer” than “dry” ones. The actual physics and chemistry of how -OH affects and weakens different minerals is not entirely clear. Creep is also essential for the convection of the earth’s mantle, which controls the escape of heat from our planet’s interior and provides the energy to drive plate tectonics. Without convection, there would be no plate tectonics, so the presence of water throughout the earth’s crust, and its continued reintroduction to the earth’s mantle by the subduction of tectonic plates seems to be a key component driving the system, or at least, helping it to keep moving along.

There are many more links between groundwater and geologic processes, too many to cover in a short blog item like this. However, the current state of our understanding is summarized in a highly recommended book “Groundwater in geologic processes”. Many aspects of groundwater flow and its links with geological processes in newly formed, colliding or subducting plates are still uncertain and studied by hydrogeologists, which means that 50 years after the publication of the theory of plate tectonics, many discoveries still lie ahead.

Figure 3 A black smoker at the mid Atlantic ridge emitting hot groundwater into the ocean from newly formed oceanic crust. Copyright: MARUM – Center for Marine Environmental Sciences, University of Bremen.

Links:

1: McKenzie and Parker (1967) https://www.nature.com/articles/2161276a0

2: Morgan (1968): http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/JB073i006p01959/full

3: Oreskes (2003): https://www.routledge.com/Plate-Tectonics-An-Insiders-History-Of-The-Modern-Theory-Of-The-Earth/Oreskes/p/book/9780813341323

4: Jassechko et al. (2017): https://www.nature.com/articles/ngeo2943

5: AGU fall meeting session (2017): http://agu.confex.com/agu/fm17/meetingapp.cgi/Session/31184

6: Hubbert and Rubery (1959): https://pubs.geoscienceworld.org/gsabulletin/article-lookup/70/2/115

7: Zoback et al. (2010): http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2010EO220001/full

8: Hammerschmidt et al. (2013): https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S004019511300098X

9: Ingebritsen et al. (2006) Groundwater in geologic processes. http://www.cambridge.org/de/academic/subjects/earth-and-environmental-science/hydrology-hydrogeology-and-water-resources/groundwater-geologic-processes-2nd-edition?format=PB&isbn=9780521603218#RcR6adP330ESbBPk.97

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David Hindle (L) is a lecturer and the head of geodynamic modelling in the Department of Structural Geology and Geodynamics at the University of Göttingen, and Elco Luijendijk (R) is a junior lecturer also in the Department of Structural Geology and Geodynamics at the University of Göttingen.