Groundwater / Global Change



Learning Objectives

  1. Explain in detail how groundwater systems function;
  2. Describe the interactions between groundwater systems, climate, surface waters and land use;
  3. Use modelling tools for climate and groundwater systems;
  4. Identify the consequences of global and climate change impacts for groundwater management under uncertainty;
  5. Plan groundwater-related adaptation solutions for global change.
  6. Specific Learning Objectives of the Course


The academic programme of GroundwatCH is built on the cornerstones of hydrogeology, climatology, impacts and adaptation, within a framework of human pressures, global and climate change and interdependencies (feedbacks), surrounding the following academic focal areas:


  • Hydrogeology;

  • Groundwater data collection, interpretation and modelling;

  • Climate processes and modelling;

  • Groundwater-surface water-climate interactions;

  • Integrated river basin and water resources management;

  • Groundwater and environmental impacts;

  • Groundwater, society and policies;

  • Groundwater in adaptation to global change.

  • Regarding the key competences and skills that the JMD programme aims to provide, they are linked to each of the thematic areas, several of which provide the basic skills required to address the other, more integrated fields, and ultimately the core thematic field, where the key distinctive and challenging skills and competences can be outlined.

Wayangi Weerasekera Sri Lanka

"After completing the GroundwatCH master, I would like to apply for a PhD opportunity mainly focusing on groundwater quality, groundwater security and sustainable management. I truly believe that the knowledge I gained through this master programme will be an immense help in finding a worthy PhD opportunity. Further, all my experiences during this period will make me more capable to achieve my targets." Read more

These are (thematic area 8):

a)    profound knowledge of how global and climate change affect groundwater bodies and associated surface waters and ecosystems;

b)    explaining feedback mechanisms between groundwater, land use and climate and how these are affected by changes occurring in one or several of the systems;

c)    capacity to use a wide range of modelling tools for climate, groundwater and water resource management, to simulate these systems, existing feedbacks and induced stresses from human activities, calibrating and validating such models based on historical data and using them for scenario analysis;

d)   ability to identify the consequences of the predicted impacts of climate change and climate variability for integrated water resources management, under the different levels of uncertainty intrinsically present in the CO2 emission scenarios, the climate models and the downscaling and bias correction techniques;

e)    capacity to integrate climatic change conditions at different time and spatial scales into (risk) management in the water sector;

f)    setting up groundwater-based adaptation solutions for climate and global change, such as managed aquifer recharge, increased groundwater storage, limiting of freshwater demand (increasing efficiency, reducing losses);

g)    knowledge on how to strengthen the science-policy interface and promote participatory adaptation in (ground)water resources management and policies, actively involving the stakeholders in the implementation process and adequately addressing uncertainty;

h)   ability to apply the obtained know-how in a practical case, supervising an adaptation solution project for solving a complex problem by proper handling of individual tasks within a team;

i)     capacity to perform advanced research on a specific scientific topic related to groundwater and global change, and to write a thesis, as well as an academic manuscript for publishing in a peer-reviewed journal.


The essential skills and competences obtained within the first seven thematic areas, following a learning curve that ultimately leads to the previously described competences of thematic area 8, are listed below.


1)   With regard to general hydrogeology, developed competences and skills include:


a)    explaining groundwater occurrences, aquifer classification and aquifer properties in the many different geological environments;

b)   carrying out comprehensive hydrological flow systems analyses in surface water and groundwater systems in different hydroclimatic regions and geological settings;

c)    performing detailed groundwater balances, interpreting and working with the concepts of groundwater recharge, storage and discharge, which represent the interaction of groundwater with the other components of the hydrological cycle;

d)   knowledge of the steady state and transient groundwater flow processes and their physical description, and application of analytical solutions to solve the many flow problems that exist, both under natural conditions and caused by groundwater exploitation.


2)   The obtained expertise in groundwater data collection, interpretation and modelling involves:


a)    interpretation of hydro(geo)logical time series and spatial data;

b)   knowing the underlying principles of methods applied to groundwater exploration, such as hydrogeological mapping, geophysical surveys and pumping tests;

c)    planning and carrying out a groundwater investigation programme and interpreting the obtained results;

d)   designing or optimizing a groundwater monitoring network using known procedures;

e)    building numerical models for groundwater flow, reactive transport and saltwater intrusion, using the model results for groundwater resources management and protection.


3)   Regarding climate processes and modelling, the obtained expertise will lie in:


a)    explaining the functioning of climate system components (atmosphere, ocean, land surface with humid, semi-arid and arid subsystems, cryosphere) and their interdependencies (feedbacks) on different spatial scales;

b)   applying associated methods for interpretation, with mathematical detail of the chemical, radiative, dynamic and thermodynamic processes that occur;

c)    determining the role of land use in climate-groundwater interrelations, simulating water and matter fluxes in soils using soil-vegetation-atmosphere transfer models;

d)   modelling principles in climate research, including global circulation models and regional downscaling, model application and evaluation, uncertainty and performance analysis.


4)   Developed competences and skills on groundwater-surface water-climate interactions, include:


a)   knowledge on existing feedback mechanisms between groundwater and surface water bodies, and between groundwater and climate, through the contact of the aquifers with the soil zone, rivers, wetlands, vegetation and the atmosphere.


5)   On integrated river basin and water resource management, competences and skills include:


a)    advanced knowledge of water resources planning, protection of water bodies and aquatic ecosystems, water use licensing and management;

b)   application of mathematical models for solving water planning and management problems, including the protection and efficient use of water resources;

c)    designing, constructing and operating water resources systems;

d)   knowledge of the application of the Water Framework Directive in the EU, its goals and principles, largely focused on ecological integrity, and consequences for national water related laws.


6)   The developed expertise in groundwater and environmental impacts involves:


a)    explaining the consequences of intensive groundwater (over)exploitation: theory behind seawater intrusion, sea-level rise, land subsidence, decline in environmental flows and consequences for dependent ecosystems;

b)   knowledge of the concept of hydrochemical facies analysis, distinguishing geogenic from anthropogenic factors;

c)    knowledge of the concepts of tracer hydrology, with emphasis on environmental isotopes;

d)   predicting the occurrence, transport and fate of the main pollutants in aquifers, including saltwater/fresh water interface movements in coastal aquifers, using analytical and/or numerical techniques;

e)    delineating wellhead protection perimeters and other zones of aquifer protection using analytical and numerical simulations;

f)    proposing remediation strategies and implementing groundwater monitoring networks.


7)   With regard to groundwater, society and policies, the acquired skills and expertise include:


a)    identifying the basic principles of environmental policies and the concept and dimensions of sustainable development, as well as the role of participatory analysis involving society, stakeholders and politics;

b)   interpretation of the global environmental and sustainable development issues, within the context of the United Nations, and also how they are addressed within the EU;

c)    knowledge of the institutions responsible for the global environmental policies, and employed policy tools.