Contact: Dr. Keith Nicholls, Dr Beatrix Schlarb-Ridley, British Antarctic Survey, Dr. Mark Muller, geophysicist
Mentor : Gino Henry

Worldwide, groundwater is the most heavily extracted of all raw materials: with an estimated withdrawal rate of 1000 km3 per year it makes up 26% of all freshwater abstraction globally. Groundwater provides 50% of the world’s drinking water and supplies 38% percent of global irrigated land. It is often the primary source of freshwater in arid countries, many of which are in the developing world. Advances in drilling and pumping technology, coupled with industrial and agricultural development, have increased pressure on groundwater reserves, leading to unsustainable exploitation, a deterioration in water quality and water scarcity. Presently groundwater abstraction, along with the state of charge of the aquifers, is difficult to measure, which makes ground water use challenging to regulate and control.

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has developed an instrument able to monitor changes in the depth of the water table in real time. Called ApRES (Autonomous, phase-sensitive Radio Echo-Sounder), this instrument has a depth resolution several orders of magnitude better than commercially-available Ground Penetrating Radar. It can be left unattended for extended periods, has low power requirements and can be remotely reprogrammed. It can transmit data via a satellite link and is low cost with respect to the alternative method – drilling monitoring wells. Data processing, which usually requires a highly trained geophysicist, is amenable to automation, facilitating the uptake of the system and method in contexts where high levels of technical input are unavailable or not appropriate. An ApRES network is able to monitor the discharge and recharge of aquifers in arid and semi-arid regions, making the management of groundwater in water scarce regions practically possible.

The role of the Development i-Team will be to help identify the best places in the developing world to trial the introduction of an ApRES groundwater monitoring system. To identify the best adoption contexts, and barriers to adoption, the i-Team is asked to investigate the following questions:

  • Which developing countries are water-poor and have significant arid areas reliant on underground water, making the ability to continuously monitor the water table most transformative?
  • Which of these countries also have economic, political, social and regulatory environments that would enable the implementation and effective use of water-table monitoring systems?
  • Is water-table monitoring presently carried out in these countries, and if so, how?
  • Who might be the main end-users: government or other regulatory agencies, commercial and/or subsistence farmers, mining and other industries, and/or domestic water users, for instance?
  • How might potential end users be identified?
  • What contextual issues might enable or reduce use by particular stakeholder groups of end-users?

For the recommended countries the i-Team will need to propose an initial set of technical targets for the optimisation of ApRES in the specific contexts of those countries. For example: instrument cost threshold, the threshold for ease/difficulty of use, the preferred data format and delivery method.