We use multiple sources of information to better characterise groundwater systems for the purpose of evidence-based resource management at local and regional scale.

The challenge

Characterisation of complex groundwater systems requires novel approaches

Groundwater is an essential resource across all of Australia, particularly when surface water resources are fully allocated or become further stressed, such as during periods of extended droughts. Identification of new groundwater resources and good management of existing resources are a priority to maintain Australia's prosperity. Sound management requires an in-depth understanding of the complexity of groundwater systems (aquifers), how they respond to changes in climatic conditions and environmental pollutants, and what their tipping-points are, at which groundwater quantity and quality becomes degraded to a point beyond repair. The challenge to characterise groundwater systems to a degree that credible groundwater models and decision support systems can be developed, is considerable. The natural heterogeneity of aquifers, their vastness (think of the Great Artesian Basin - GAB) and the often remote location of areas of development where information is scarce or virtually non-existing, all contribute to a challenging task, requiring adoption of novel approaches.

Our response

Being smarter in extracting new information from scarcely available data

We combine multidisciplinary approaches for characterising groundwater resources from the local (palaeovalley systems ) to the regional (Great Artesian Basin) scale.

The methods used include remote sensing and airborne geophysical data sources that provide the skeleton for incorporating detailed field-based measurements including environmental tracers . Data analysis techniques such as machine learning methods and inverse modelling with analytical and numerical tools generate new information from often scarcely available data.

Thickness of palaeovalley aquifers derived from neural network analysis of geophysical and topographic data. The aquifers are located in the Musgrave Province, South Australia.

Thickness of palaeovalley aquifers derived from neural network analysis of geophysical and topographic data. The aquifers are located in the Musgrave Province, South Australia.

Our research methodology adopts smart data acquisition concepts – identifying both the most appropriate data type and the optimal locations for sampling (data worth analysis). These techniques are used to develop effective new monitoring networks or to improve existing monitoring programs. They also help to ensure that a maximum of new knowledge is generated from limited data when budgets for field measurements and monitoring are constrained.

By integrating traditional (e.g. hydrogeological parameters from borehole sampling) and new (e.g. airborne and/or surface-based geophysics) data types we build more robust groundwater system conceptualisations. Because such conceptual models are the backbone of numerical groundwater models, the confidence in the predictions made with better constrained groundwater models will increase. As a result, management decisions are made with less uncertainty.

Our research has resulted in a better understanding of groundwater resources and their risk profiles. Our efficient approaches are being applied throughout Australia for many purposes, including sustainable management of aquifers, assessing potential coal seam gas impacts, monitoring and optimisation of managed aquifer recharge schemes and characterisation of potential groundwater resources to support small communities (e.g. palaeovalley aquifers in northern South Australia) and regional developments (e.g. Northern Australia).

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