Freshwater hidden under the sea could be a saviour supply

  Last updated October 29, 2019 at 12:32 pm


Under the sea, under the sea, darling it’s better, down where it’s wetter  🎶

freshwater reserves_ocean_sea

Why This Matters: Freshwater under the sea could provide a way to avoid another Cape Town scenario.

Researchers are working to locate and investigate vital freshwater reservoirs that exist under the sea.

These freshwater reserves could be vital in combatting escalating global water supply issues.

Researcher, Adrian Werner from Flinders University, says scientists have long been fascinated by freshwater under the sea.

“Since the late 1960s, groundwater scientists have been intrigued by evidence of freshwater beneath the sea, and in the following decades, understanding subsea fresh groundwater has advanced and is now understood to be a global phenomenon,” he says.

Offshore freshwater reserves are an unexploited resource, for now

Water shortages hit crisis point in Cape Town in 2018 following a three-year-long drought. Credit: WIKUS DE WET/AFP/Getty Images

The researchers work involving offshore aquifers has led to the publication of seven significant papers that cover a range of issues – from improving methods of obtaining offshore freshwater estimates, to better understanding how onshore events influence and affect subsea freshwater aquifers.

Several severe recent water shortages in coastal cities around the globe – including Cape Town during 2018 – have raised the possibility of accessing offshore freshwater, even if only as an emergency measure.

However, Werner warns that current knowledge of the extent of offshore freshwater is limited, and questions already exist whether humans are drawing on offshore freshwater reserves while pumping fresh groundwater from coastal aquifers.

Also: To better manage groundwater, first understand it

“Our research is addressing whether we are already accessing offshore freshwater or whether this is a largely untapped resource that is yet to be exploited,” he says.

Finding freshwater reserves in Australia

Two papers have focused on offshore freshwater in key Australian coastal aquifer systems – in Perth and the lower southeast of South Australia.

“These are the first two attempts to study Australian offshore aquifers, and we found considerable offshore freshwater resources in both cases.

“These are ancient bodies of freshwater that are either in balance with onshore aquifer conditions or are in the process of depleting,” explains  Werner.

He says another exciting area of research has been studying delicate freshwater resources on small islands, including Pacific nations where sea-level rise threatens their water supplies.

Elsewhere: Kakadu freshwater floodplains to disappear in a century due to sea-level rise

“We uncovered major revelations about Kiribati’s freshwater resources that have implications for groundwater management more generally.”

The researchers have also looked at the groundwater in floodplains adjacent to the River Murray.

“We made some remarkable discoveries about freshwater next to the river in otherwise saline aquifers that defies accepted knowledge on aquifer-river interactions,” says Werner.

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