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Making the invisible visible this World Water Day

To mark the occasion, ESR is sharing a collection of videos featuring groundwater experts from around Aotearoa highlighting why groundwater is important to them, and what current and future generations of Kiwis can do to protect this taonga.

As the videos reflect, while groundwater is out of sight to most of us, the role it plays in our lives is hugely significant. In fact, many New Zealanders rely on groundwater sources directly as their source of drinking water, including in major cities.

“I’m really excited that we’re able to take part in the UN World Water Day, which is basically looking at groundwater systems and making the unseen seen,” says groundwater expert and ESR Science Leader Dr Louise Weaver, who is featured in one of the videos.

“It’s actually the Year of Groundwater so even though we have World Water Day, it’s also very exciting that the whole of this year is to dedicated to thinking about groundwater, and bearing in mind the role groundwater plays in our water cycle."

Lou says that although groundwater’s a vital part of our water cycle, it’s the part of the cycle we know so little about: “we need to know more about it in order to understand what role it plays in our water cycle.”

The message the scientists share is clear – we must look after groundwater and realise the interconnection between ground and surface water. How we interact with our surface water like rivers and streams has a big impact on groundwater, while groundwater can also ‘give’ and ‘exchange’ water with rivers and other surface water, seemingly defying gravity.

As Lou says, “have a look around; look farther than the water that you're looking at on the surface and think about how it connects to underground processes."

You can find out more about ESR’s groundwater science expertise here(external link). Groundwater is one of the many areas of water science in which ESR leads cutting-edge research, including in the areas of freshwater, drinking water, wastewater, and marine microplastic contamination.

The full collection of seven videos can be found on ESR’s YouTube channel(external link).

To find out more about how World Water Day is being marked around the world, click here(external link).

Top facts about groundwater

  • 40% of drinking water in Aotearoa comes from groundwater.
  • Groundwater is stored in gaps between rocks and soil particles much like water soaked-up by a sponge. Groundwater is a big source of fresh water for drinking and also for surface water, like lakes and rivers. While we know groundwater is really important, we're still learning a lot about it.
  • Like tides at a beach, water is always moving in and out of rivers, such as when it floods. What you might not know though is that groundwater significantly affects the flow of river water (AKA ‘surface water') too, with rivers able to ‘lose’ water to groundwater.
  • Pale, almost translucent creatures without sight swim in the underground caves beneath our feet. This might sound like something out of a science fiction film, but it's actually a description of a groundwater ecosystem. One such creature that lives in groundwater is the amphipod, small but vital for the health of the ecosystem. And many species living in groundwater haven't even been described yet.
  • By researching the keystone species in Aotearoa’s groundwater and the role they play in maintaining healthy water that enables our way of life. Scientists can also find out how resilient these species are to changes in their environment from anthropogenic and climate change – much like canaries in a coalmine.

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Author:
David Brown
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  • Community
  • Water science
  • Environmental Science