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The challenge

Recognising groundwaters as an important resource

Groundwaters are a strategically important water resource.

Although groundwaters support a range of unique organisms adapted to the sub-surface environment, until recently the value of this ecosystem has been largely neglected. The impacts of contaminants on groundwater ecosystems are poorly understood, and the sensitivity of the ecosystem is predicted to be quite different to surface water systems. To date, we have only considered groundwaters as a source of contaminants to overlying waters, rather than protecting groundwater ecosystems in their own right.

There are challenges in assessing the geochemical fate of contaminants that enter groundwaters, from deeper mineralised sources (e.g. during coal seam gas recovery) or from surface water sources.

water organismThere is a need to establish methods for assessing risks of toxicity from stressors introduced by anthropogenic activities.

Our response

Contaminant fate and effects assessment

We are using extensive and advanced laboratory-based capability to assess the fate of contaminants as they are transported through subsurface media.

We study the biogeochemistry of groundwater environments to determine the key processes facilitating or attenuating contaminant transformations (e.g. As(III) to As(V), Cr(VI) to Cr(III))) and risks of exposure for groundwater organisms.

We are partnering with experts in groundwater ecology to utilise knowledge of surface water species sensitivity, and new ecotoxicogenomic techniques to develop new knowledge and new methods for evaluating risk of contaminants to groundwater organisms.

The results

Partnerships for greater capabilities and knowledge

We are providing industry with new capability and knowledge to improve their management of groundwater contamination arising from their project activities at ground-level (e.g. infiltration of highly toxic Cr(VI)) and in subsurface environments (e.g. hydrocarbon release from oil and gas drilling, mobilisation of arsenic).

We are partnering and collaborating with experts in groundwater ecology to refine our knowledge of the sensitivity of groundwater ecosystems to contaminants.

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