Hidden depths: why groundwater is our most important water source



File 20180208 74482 b7wl9c.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Deep dive: water flows from a bore in Birdsville, Queensland.
Lobster1/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Emma Kathryn White, University of Melbourne

Vivid scenes of worried Cape Town residents clutching empty water vessels in long snaking queues are ricocheting around the globe. Everyone is asking, “How did this happen?” Or, more precisely, “Can it happen in my city?” The importance of effective water management has been shoved, blinking, into the limelight.

In Australia we’re watching somewhat nervously, grateful to have been spared the same fate – for now, at least. Experts tell us that the key is “water divestment” – that is, don’t put all your eggs in one basket (or, perhaps more appropriately, don’t get all your water from the same tap).

Perth is held up as a shining example of Australia’s success in water divestment. The city now relies partly on desalination and crucially gets almost 70% of its supply from groundwater.




Read more:
The world’s biggest source of freshwater is beneath your feet


Groundwater, the great salvation of parched cities and agricultural development, is the world’s largest freshwater resource. The volume of fresh water in all the world’s lakes, rivers and swamps adds up to less than 1% of that of fresh groundwater – like putting a perfume bottle next to a ten-litre bucket.

What’s more, because it’s underground, it is buffered somewhat from a fickle climate and often used to maintain or supplement supply during times of drought.

Yet caution is required when developing groundwater. Sinking wells everywhere, Beverley Hillbillies style, is unwise. Instead, robust groundwater management is required – defining clearly what we want to achieve and what are we prepared to lose to get it.

Despite the common perception of its abundance, groundwater is not inexhaustible. Its management is fraught with minefields greater and more enigmatic than those of surface waters. It is, after all, much easier to spot when a reservoir is about to run dry than a subterranean aquifer.

Subsidence can be surprisingly rapid, as in the case of this example in California’s San Joaquin Valley.
USGS

Only when aquifer depletion is already quite advanced do we begin to see the tell-tale signs at the surface: metres and metres of subsidence, huge cracks in roads, and dried-up wetlands clogged with dead trees and dried-out bird carcasses.

For the most part, however, groundwater remains out of sight, hidden beneath many metres of soil and rock. We only remember it is there when something goes wrong, such as a drought, at which point people begin raving about groundwater, location, yield, salinity, stygofauna – wait, what?

Actually hardly anyone cares about stygofauna; most people have never heard of these tiny subterranean creatures, and you will certainly never see one as a state emblem. Mound springs? What are they? Clearly being underground has left groundwater with an image problem.

There was much media coverage of water theft from the Murray River, with broadcast journalists reporting breathlessly from tinnies, and dramatic footage of huge pumps sucking swirling brown water from a sluggish river. Film of groundwater pumps sedately slurping water is much harder to get, because bores tend to be on private property, often hidden inside little tin shacks and kind of boring, really.

Groundwater just doesn’t capture the public imagination. Great reservoirs and rivers are evocative of wilderness and adventure; they almost make you want to build a little raft and float lazily away, Huck Finn style. But the thing is, groundwater feeds many great rivers, supplying base-flow, so when we suck water out of wells, in many instances we may as well be sucking out of rivers.

Despite this connectivity, in many regions groundwater and surface water are managed separately. This is akin to treating to your left hand as a separate entity to your right. Regulation of groundwater lags behind that of surface water and, in many parts of the world including the United States, China, India and Australia, groundwater is overexploited and pumped prolifically, leading to severe social and environmental impacts.

Mound springs support unique and endemic ecosystems and bubbling clear cold water, a welcome sight for dusty travellers. And as for the aforementioned stygofauna, well, what could be cooler than a blind cave eel?




Read more:
Squeezed by gravity: how tides affect the groundwater under our feet


Groundwater will become increasingly important as a water source as we grapple with growing cities and burgeoning populations, not to mention climate change, which is projected to reduce rainfall across eastern Australia.

It is crucial that we ensure our groundwater management is effective and robust in the face of drought. It is no longer enough just to write management plans; we must put them to the test by running our groundwater models through a range of future climate and management frequency scenarios. We need increased investment in groundwater management planning, and for management to be conducted in conjunction with surface water management.

The ConversationWith many cities’ water supplies drying up before our eyes, we also need to remember to think about the water we cannot see.

Emma Kathryn White, PhD Candidate, Infrastructure Engineering, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Supermassive black holes could be the source of mysterious cosmic rays


Ivy Shih, The Conversation

An international team of astronomers has discovered that the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy might be the source of mysterious high-energy cosmic rays that bombard the Earth on a daily basis.

The discovery, reported in Nature, brings new answers to one of astronomy’s most longstanding mysteries.

Back to the source

In 1912 Victor Hess found that the Earth was being bombarded by subatomic particles travelling at tremendous speeds that originated from outer space. He called the particles “cosmic rays”. But the origin of these high energy particles has remained a mystery for more than 100 years.

“How cosmic rays are created and accelerated at very high energies is the big question astronomers are trying to understand,” said Associate Professor Gavin Rowell, an astrophysicist from the University of Adelaide, who was involved in the Nature study.

One theory was that cosmic rays are produced during supernova explosions. These create “remnants” that send shock waves throughout the galaxy. This electrically charges particles in space, which are then accelerated to near the speed of light, eventually hitting the Earth.

However, because the particles are mangetically charged, any magnetic field in space will change their direction. That means it’s difficult to determine their origin once they strike our atmosphere.

In this study, the researchers used the High Energy Spectroscopic System (HESS) telescopes in Namibia to look for the very fast flashes of light created when cosmic rays collide with the Earth’s atmosphere.

Using this data, the researchers were able to estimate the direction of the cosmic ray, and found it pointed back towards the centre of our galaxy.

This coincides with the location of what is believed to be a supermassive black hole, with a mass of 4 to 5 million solar masses. The HESS team suggest that the huge gravitational force exerted by the tremendous mass of the black hole was able to accelerate the particles to their incredibly high velocities.

“This result adds a new dimension in cosmic rays, and how the cosmic rays our galaxy is producing could also come from this massive central black hole,” Rowell said.

Artist’s impression of our Milky Way’s central region. Cosmic-rays
(blue dots) are streaming out of the central black hole region.
They then create the gamma-ray signal (yellow wavy lines) we see
via interaction with the surrounding gas clouds.

Dr Mark A Garlick/ HESS Collaboration, Author provided

Cosmic Cluedo

Professor Geraint Lewis, an astrophysicist at the University of Sydney, emphasised that the study also makes us aware that the universe can do things that far outstrip what we are capable of here on Earth. However, our understanding of cosmic rays is still far from complete.

He mentioned that the biggest question is explaining the precise cause of the particle acceleration.

“It is like a game of Cluedo: they’ve tied down what they think is the site of the murder, but now they are trying to locate the weapon,” he told The Conversation.

What it does tells us is that the cosmos can accelerate particles to velocities that far exceeds what we are capable doing on Earth.

“These particle accelerators in outer space put the Hadron Collider in the shade,” he said.

The Conversation

Ivy Shih, Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Nuclear Power: Mini Reactors a Possibility


Despite the nuclear problems in Japan following the recent earthquake and tsunami disaster there, consideration still needs to be given to nuclear power as a possible green energy source – certainly I believe that this technology warrants more investigation. The article below raises the possibility of mini-nuclear reactors as being a possible and safer answer to our energy needs.

For more visit:
http://www.good.is/post/small-modular-nuclear-plants-a-cheap-risk-free-solution/