CSIRO, University of Adelaide launch new facility to protect Australia’s groundwater

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CSIRO and the University of Adelaide have launched a unique new facility aimed at protecting Australia’s precious groundwater from overuse and contamination.

Located at the University’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing, the Atom Trap Trace Analysis (ATTA) facility utilises advanced laser physics to count individual atoms of the noble gases, such as Argon and Krypton, that are naturally found in groundwater and ice cores.

Professor Andre Luiten said the facility would allow researchers to understand the age, origin and interconnectivity of the groundwater by measuring the ultra-low concentrations of these radioactive noble gases.

“Australia relies on its groundwater for 30 per cent of its water supply for human consumption, stock watering, irrigation and mining,” the Professor said.

“With climate change and periods of prolonged drought, surface water is becoming increasingly more unreliable and the use of groundwater is rising.

“We need to make sure it’s sustainable.”

CSIRO Senior Principal Research Scientist Dr Dirk Mallants said ATTA’s analytic capability would also allow researchers to look further into the past of Antarctica’s climate, as well as to determine how old groundwater is from decades and centuries up to one million years.

“This allows us to understand the sources of water, where it comes from and what the recharge rates are,” Dr Mallants said.

“That then allows us to make decisions about sustainable extraction.

“This is critical where development of any kind might use or impact groundwater systems – from urban development where groundwater systems are used to supply communities, to agricultural and mining development.

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“It will provide Australian researchers, government and industry with unique capability of collaboration on national water challenges.”

The ATTA facility is partially funded under the Australian Research Council’s Linkage, Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities scheme.

Image credit: https://www.csiro.au/en