Dr Lee Burbery is a senior scientist within ESR’s groundwater team. The groundwater team works on a variety of science projects; mainly focused on characterising the bio-physical properties of New Zealand groundwater systems and studying how contaminants of concern move in the subsurface. The work provides science-based knowledge that can be incorporated into models applied for freshwater resource management decision-making and inform policies on protection of the environment and public health.
“Much of our groundwater research is targeted directly at answering a question or providing some scientific solution to an active groundwater pollution issue, such as nitrate contamination from intensified farming or microbial contamination from land-based effluent disposal practices,” Lee says.
“We work closely with regional councils and public health authorities on matters that are of concern to them, and our scientific investigations might vary in physical scale from small in vitro tests performed in the lab, to a full-blown field-scale investigation of a particular groundwater system.”
Nitrate pollution is a topic where much of Lee’s research is focused.
“A goal of the Government-funded Groundwater Assimilative Capacity (GWAC) project I contribute to is to evaluate what capacity groundwater systems have to assimilate nitrogen inputs leached from the land. This information will be useful for planners and environmental regulators trying to manage freshwater quality.
“I am keen to develop practical methods to remediate nitrate in groundwater, as part of the solution to addressing the problem of farming within freshwater quality limits. I am currently exploring the viability of using denitrifying permeable reactive barriers as a nitrate mitigation measure in shallow alluvial gravel aquifer settings – gravel aquifers contain much of New Zealand’s usable groundwater and are particularly vulnerable to nitrogen contamination.”
Another project Lee is involved in is characterising the inherent heterogeneity of alluvial gravel aquifers. Lee and the team have developed some novel and practical methods to improve our understanding of and ability to model flow and contaminant transport processes in these type of aquifers.