Using Data and Mapping to Pinpoint Contaminated Sources of Groundwater

The interactive portal Groundwater Assessment Platform plots out sources of groundwater that are contaminated by arsenic or high levels of fluoride.

Author Anna Rees, 05.09.16

The interactive portal Groundwater Assessment Platform plots out sources of groundwater that are contaminated by arsenic or high levels of fluoride.

Groundwater is the go to drinking water source for around one third of our planet’s inhabitants. Yet, water found at 10 per cent of wells worldwide is contaminated with arsenic or high levels of fluoride. In Bangladesh, for example, numerous wells were dug in areas where arsenic naturally occurs, exposing an estimated 35-77 million people to high levels the chemical element. We’ve previously written about projects using innovative approaches to supply clean drinking water to residents Bangladesh; see here and here.

Determining the spots where water contamination occurs can be a labourious and costly process and usually requires taking samples from all the wells and sources of groundwater in a particular area. The costs alone can make it difficult for health and water bodies in developing regions to carry out regular testing and draw data. To help simplify this process, research group The Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) developed a system for assessing the risk of groundwater contamination in any area that doesn’t require taking and analysing samples each time. Rather, their methodology combines available data on arsenic and fluoride levels with geographical, topographical and environmental data derived from sources such as satellites to determine the risk of a groundwater source being contaminated.

The online Groundwater Assessment Platform, which launched late last month, presents interactive, digitalised visualisations of their findings. The data and maps are available free of charge via the website (you will need to sign up first, though, to access the information). One of the most useful aspects of the platform is that it allows researchers, think tanks and NGOs to upload their data and use this to generate maps that visualise their data.

“This makes it easier to identify the wells that should be investigated as a matter of priority, so that available funds and resources can be deployed in a more targeted manner.” Michael Berg, Head of the Department of Water Resources & Drinking Water at Eawag.

The data and maps on site can be used to help authorities accurately tailor their efforts to supply potable water and also help inform the public about which sources of groundwater in a specific area are contaminated. The website also has a wiki section with advice and tested methods for removing contaminant, which users can also contribute to. Head to the website to find out more.

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