| AQUATERRA: Integrated modelling of the river-sediment soil-groundwater system

Along the riverbank

The human impact on the river-sediment-soil-groundwater system is undeniable and often detrimental. The mining and coal-based industries have produced soot and organic compounds, many of them carcinogenic, which have been released into the soil and rivers surrounding mines and factories. The environmental impact of this pollution is widespread; it seeps into ground and surface water and negatively affects soil quality.

The AQUATERRA project, which received funding under the 6th Framework Programme for Research and finished in June this year, has brought together 45 research organisations from 15 countries. Participating researchers examined the scientific as well as socio-economic, regulatory and policy-making factors which together affect river-sediment-soil-groundwater systems. Working in five representative European river basins - Brévilles, Ebro, Meuse, Elbe and Danube – the multidisciplinary research team was divided into 11 subprojects. These subprojects covered a large spectrum of methods ranging from logistic field applications and chemical-physical monitoring to data and modelling. Issues such as socio-economic implications, dissemination of scientific results as well as project management were addressed.

Through comprehensive sampling and monitoring, AQUATERRA showed that pollutants that pose a threat to ecosystems, animal and human health are found today ubiquitously, in air, in soil and sediments, in surface waters as well in groundwater. The project identified and parameterised the biological, chemical and physical processes influencing the pathways of pollutants in soil and water systems. New measurement techniques and analytical tools were developed, allowing for a better detection of a larger range of pollutive compounds than previously existing methods.

Which concentration matters?

How fast are organic compounds degraded or diluted? How many pollutants can a system absorb before a "real" damage occurs? To answer these essential questions, AQUATERRA designed numerical models capable of predicting trends by generating hydrologic scenarios and simulating pollutant distribution within timeframes ranging from decades to millennia.

These models and the collected data will be very beneficial for researchers, policy-makers and environmental mangers alike.

For more information on AQUATERRA, please visit the project website.