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As the largest liquid freshwater reservoir on earth, groundwater has both a huge environmental and economic value, and will be an essential resource for adaptation to climate change and reduction of socio-economic vulnerability, particularly in regions where freshwater availability is highly variable and frequently limited.

Several factors foster the need for a more comprehensive and multidisciplinary educational groundwater programme.


First, groundwater is a component of the water cycle interacting with all other components at various temporal and spatial scales.


Second, groundwater systems are largely interdependent with socio-economic development. The presence of important and productive aquifers can boost socio-economic development and alleviate poverty in low-income countries by providing water for public supply and sustainable irrigation, increasing (environmental-friendly) land use efficiency.


On the other hand, the continuous growth of the world population and the socio-economic development of many countries has already caused, and will continue to cause, large impacts on freshwater (including groundwater) systems through uncontrolled exploitation, causing depletion, seawater intrusion, reduction in baseflows in rivers and ecological flows sustaining freshwater ecosystems, or land subsidence. 

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a brief introduction to GroundwatCh by programme coordinator Dr. Tibor Stigter

Third, climate change is foreseen to affect freshwater availability globally, with several hotspots, among which many areas that currently already suffer periods of severe droughts and freshwater scarcity, such as the Mediterranean area of southern Europe and Northern Africa, northeast China, northern and south-western Latin America, large parts of Australia and the western United States, among others. Fourth, important feedback mechanisms exist between groundwater (and its use), climate and global change, which vary in time and space.


The existence of groundwater at shallow depths for instance has a large influence on processes occurring in the atmospheric boundary layer, whereas lateral groundwater flow towards rivers and wetlands sustains surface moisture levels that feed back into the regional climate. Groundwater-supported evapotranspiration can significantly contribute to the overall water balance, whereas groundwater-fed irrigation increases evapotranspiration rates overall, possibly affect the precipitation regime.

Min Lu China

"This Erasmus programme focuses on groundwater and global changes which is of growing importance nowadays and in the future. Two years of study in three different countries is an excellent experience to build up professional skills. Moreover, it is a good opportunity to meet classmates from all over the world, enjoy Europe and have a lot of fun!" Read more

GroundwatCh addresses the current gaps in higher education with regard to the understanding of the complex interactions between groundwater, surface water, climate and global change, and how we should consider these, and can benefit from them, for the implementation of adaptation solutions. Embracing the central theme of Groundwater and Global Change – Impacts and Adaptation we have linked it to six major thematic fields.

A. Hydrological flow and ecosystems. This field addresses how groundwater flow systems develop and interact with the lithosphere at different scales, from local shallow systems (10-100 years) to intermediate and regional flow systems (100-1000 years or longer), as well as the importance of groundwater within the hydrological cycle and the environment, studying where, when and how rivers, wetlands and other water bodies and ecosystems depend on groundwater.

B. Groundwater quality and pollution. Developing skills and competences on studying the impacts of human activities on groundwater salinity and quality, with regard to traditional and emerging pollutants, as well as geogenic sources of pollution (e.g. arsenic, fluoride), and ways to mitigate such problems.

C. Groundwater and climate. The study of interactions and feedback mechanisms between groundwater and climate, and how this is affected by climate change. The soil zone is the critical interface between groundwater and the atmosphere and, together with land use plays a critical role in groundwater recharge, discharge through evapotranspiration and water quality evolution. Stigter et al. (2022) provide a comprehensive overview of the threats and opportunities linked to groundwater and climate change. A common feature of these threats and opportunities is that their importance and dimension will vary largely in space and therefore regional and local assessments will be essential. Moreover, the different levels of uncertainty linked to climate change impact studies, intrinsically present in the greenhouse gas emission scenarios, climate modelling, downscaling and bias correction techniques, as well as the hydrogeological characterizations, recharge determinations and groundwater flow simulations, can only be adequately assessed through comprehensive training in the related disciplines.

D. IWRM and sustainable development. Learning to study groundwater resources management within an integrated water resources management (IWRM) perspective, closely linked with the climate-water-food-energy nexus and land use management. This theme discusses the importance of the conjunctive use of different water sources to build resilience into water supply systems, and addresses the crucial role of groundwater to achieve an optimised trade-off between economic, social, and environmental goals. It also includes the required approaches to ensure an effective interaction with society in a changing world, addressing the typical hurdles that can prevent IWRM from being implemented. Students will ultimately learn to assess and optimise the role of groundwater in adaptation.

E. Water infrastructure. The role of water infrastructure as an essential component of water governance, namely, to safeguard the satisfaction of domestic, irrigation, and industrial needs, to prevent and control water contamination and to ensure ecosystems health. The design of water infrastructure and the optimization of its operation requires training to optimise its benefits, minimise inefficiencies and avoid pollution, among other aspects. Managed aquifer recharge projects and contaminated aquifer restoration projects are good examples of the key role of infrastructures in groundwater management.

F. Monitoring, data and modelling. This is an overarching thematic area (outer circle in the diagram of Figure 1), where knowledge and skills are provided in hydrological instrumentation, data collection, monitoring and simulation, all essential tools in the assessment of groundwater and global change impacts. Modelling is an extremely powerful tool for simulating systems and predicting the (combined) effect of socio-economic development, water management strategies and/or climate change on groundwater resources. However, good models highly rely on good data acquisition, for which both remote sensing techniques and monitoring on the ground are required. The latter is still a major challenge in many parts of the world, and is an important aspect of ongoing projects and initiatives, involving universities as well as research and groundwater monitoring organizations such as TNO and IGRAC, associated partners to the GroundwatCh programme.

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