UNSW joins new international groundwater project

Scientists from UNSW and Germany are conducting research this week at Wellington Caves as part of an international project to better understand how changes in climate and land use will impact groundwater.


Wellington Caves in mid-west NSW where scientific research is being carried out. Image: wellingtoncaves.com.au

Scientists from UNSW and Germany are conducting research this week at Wellington Caves in NSW as part of an international project to better understand how changes in climate and land use will impact groundwater resources.

About one quarter of the world’s population is completely or partially dependent on drinking water from limestone aquifers.

For the international project, Junior Professor Andreas Hartmann of the University of Freiburg in Germany is measuring groundwater recharge processes in five countries with very different climates - Germany, England, Spain, Puerto Rico and Australia.

In Australia, he is working with UNSW Professor Andy Baker, of the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, at Wellington in the state’s mid-west.

A new long-term experimental site to measure soil moisture has been established above Wellington Caves. Results from this experiment will be compared to the recharge reaching Cathedral Cave below ground, which is already being recorded using equipment that measures cave drips.

“This is the only cave and karst environment in the world where the rainfall, the soil moisture and the water infiltration to the groundwater are being measured at the same time,” says Professor Baker.

“As well as helping Junior Professor Hartmann’s research project, it will be a wonderful resource for research students, science teachers and cave guides,” he says.

Junior Professor Andreas Hartmann says: “Soil moisture measurements in karst have rarely been done before and we expect exciting results from our global monitoring system.”


A scientists conducts research on soil moisture at Wellington Caves in NSW

Wellington Caves Coordinator Michelle Tonkins says: “The Wellington Caves are an important site for scientific research and having experts on site and conducting scientific research is of great benefit as it provides more data and knowledge about the karst and cave system.

“It’s also great for guests to appreciate the importance of the Caves beyond being a fantastic tourist attraction but as an important place for scientific study,” she says.

The Global Assessment of Water Stress in Karst Regions in a Changing World international project is funded by the German Research Foundation and the research at Wellington is funded by Australia’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy.