Assessing groundwater research

By Country News

Research around groundwater needs to be overhauled to allow for greater accuracy, independence and understanding for the groundwater systems, according to a research paper.

The Flinders University-led research found there was ‘‘inherent uncertainty’’ about groundwater conditions, with current modelling failing to increase certainty.

Groundwater modellers may choose between a single consensus model approach, or a comprehensive multi-model system that develops conceptual models in parallel — evaluating and adapting them as further data is obtained to reduce uncertainty and produce more reliable predictions.

The paper argues that while the multi-model method is superior in reducing uncertainty, it is underutilised and wide variations exist when it is used, with models often limited by testing independence together with the time and cost involved in obtaining more comprehensive data.

‘‘Hydrogeological data is often scarce and uncertainty around how a groundwater system functions is always a challenge,’’ PhD candidate and lead author Trine Enemark said.

‘‘While it is impossible to make a model that perfectly describes reality, conceptual uncertainty — which relates to uncertainty in understanding how a groundwater system functions — is often ignored.’’

Ms Enemark’s paper notes that few guidelines exist for developing multiple conceptual models and these are rarely followed.

It advocates for a systematic approach in developing, adapting and rejecting versions of models, consistent with new data obtained.

‘‘Comprehensive parallel modelling is time consuming, but disregarding plausible alternative models can lead to surprises — and in the long run result in additional costs,’’ she said.

‘‘Reducing uncertainty in groundwater modelling reduces the risk of making decisions that could have a negative impact on the groundwater system, while also avoiding overly cautious decisions that could lead to missed opportunities.’’

Published in the Journal of Hydrology, the paper — Hydrogeological conceptual model building and testing: A review — was co-authored with Flinders University’s strategic professor Okke Batelaan.

He said the findings stressed the importance of emphasising multi-model approaches in teaching and industry training, and could inform future changes to groundwater modelling guidelines.

‘‘The groundwater debates that often surround mining or other major projects highlight the need for a less subjective, more systematic approach that covers all aspects of conceptualisation relevant to the study objective,’’ Prof Batelaan said.