Earth & Environment


New Technologies for Aquifer assessment

On the 15th and 16th of april, IGRAC and UNESCO-IHP organized an international workshop in Utrecht on new technologies and alternative information sources for conducting global assessments of transboundary aquifers (TBAS).

The workshop was organized in the context of a global Transboundary Water Assessment Program (TWAP) planned by the Global Environment Facility (GEF, Worldbank). IGRAC is developing this assessment together with some of the workshop’s participants. 35 renowned water experts of various international organizations and from different government and private sectors discussed how certain ‘modern’ technologies can contribute to global groundwater assessments.


The workshop considered groundwater in its socio-economic and environmental context. Special attention was further given to Remote Sensing and Airborne Geophysics; Global Change Modeling (GCM); methods for estimating groundwater demand, use, storage and change (using GRACE satellite imagery), water footprints, water valuing, water quality and the necessity of in-situ measurements.

The workshop showed that the ‘modern’ methods and models can add valuable complementary information to in-situ data. However, the latter will always be important to collect as it is necessary to validate, calibrate and ground-truth those ‘modern’ methods.

During the workshop some major international programs in global groundwater assessment (WHYMAP, IGRAC’s GGMN and GEO ) showed how they contribute to international data integration and sharing. Data availability and ownership were important recurring themes throughout the workshop.

Data availability & stakeholders

With respect to data availability, the workshop formed a platform to once again voice the need for more new data and for improving the availability of existing data. It was put forward that the need for access to more data is shared by more stakeholders than normally accounted for: stakeholders in groundwater data actually include 1) government institutions, including ministries; 2) non-profit institutions working at global scales, such as UNESCO, the Worldbank and IGRAC; 3) climate and hydrogeological scientists modeling at local and global scales 4) the private sector, including industry, farmers and the energy sector; 5) indiviuals at the household level.

The data need of all of these stakeholders could be used as an incentive to get them to participate in the data generating processes at global scales. The workshop was successful at bringing some of these stakeholders closer together, by giving more insight in how each approached groundwater, data management and ownership, and where synergies could be found.

The workshop also showed that a lot of data and overview maps actually exist, but must be pulled together, aggregated, integrated and most of all: be made available.

Data ownership

It was made clear that most groundwater data is owned by government departments, and not by the institutions who measure the data in the first place. These government departments subsequently determine whether data becomes available (as in the Netherlands and Austrialia) or is locked away in a closet (as in most other countries). In the EU, international regulation has proven valuable in opening up these closets.

It should further be noted that a lot of data on the sub-surface was acquired by the mining industry and thus is owned by mining departments. Groundwater departments of the same government often do not have access to this data. Sometimes they don’t even know of its existence.

A successful workshop

All in all, the workshop was experienced as a great success by both the participants and organizers. The discussions were fruitful at giving input for the conference’s objective (developing a global TBA assessment methodology), but beyond that it also laid bare some other concrete findings, namely

  1. where synergies exist between different stakeholders;
  2. which issues are recurring throughout different assessment methodologies (scale and uncertainty);
  3. why certain modern methods are not extensively used in the groundwater sector yet and how this could be changed; and finally
  4. where steps to improve international data availability should be taken, namely at a national level and by improving collaboration between government departments.

Participants of the workshop included BGR, Deltares, ETH-Zurich,FAO, Fugro, GEF, IGRAC, PBL, Shell, Twente University, UNEP, UNESCO, University of Arizona, University of Frankfurt, University of Texas, Utrecht University, Vitens and WaterWatch.