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Smart Modelling to Help with Aquifer Management

MEDIA RELEASE from GNS Science
3 SEPTEMBER 2015

Smart Modelling to Help with Aquifer Management

Smart modelling techniques are going to provide the horsepower behind a range of new methods to improve the management of New Zealand’s aquifers.

The interactions between groundwater and our rivers, lakes, wetlands and estuaries are complex. Currently the models used by the groundwater industry are either too detailed and slow to be practical, or are too simple to provide accurate information. There is also a lack of standardisation across the country.

GNS Science has been awarded funding for a three-year project to develop a brace of ‘smart computer models’ that will address these deficiencies.

The funding of $1 million-a-year for three years was announced today by Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce, as part of MBIE’s latest contestable funding round.

There about 200 known aquifers in New Zealand and groundwater currently accounts for about one third of all freshwater usage.

Groundwater scientists see the deficiencies in existing modelling methods as detracting from the efficient management of New Zealand’s groundwater resources.

The GNS Science-led project will develop and test what scientists call ‘smart models’ for improved aquifer management. ‘Smart models’ are those that have the right level of complexity and run times to deliver useful information for sound decision-making.

Development of the new models will be ground-truthed by scientific investigations in aquifers in three regions – Southland, Waikato, and Wellington. End users will help define performance parameters for the models in each of these catchment areas.

In addition, the models will be tested in overseas catchments to help ensure that the results of the research are relevant, workable, and transferable to a range of groundwater-surface water contexts in New Zealand and internationally.

Project Leader Catherine Moore, of GNS Science, said groundwater models were essential tools in the effective management of New Zealand’s water resources.

“However, holistic freshwater management and the need to integrate surface and groundwater processes has driven the development of models that are increasingly complex to allow predictions that cover large areas and long time frames with fine special and temporal resolution,” Dr Moore said.

“The result is that groundwater models have rapidly become too data-hungry and complex to run quickly.”

The project would use innovative mathematical techniques to produce simpler models.

Dr Moore said putting a value on the outcomes from the research was difficult, but scientists had estimated the new models would deliver improvements and other benefits valued at about $350 million-a-year to New Zealand.

This was equivalent to about 1% of the economic value of New Zealand’s freshwater resources.

End users had pledged about $2.5 million in ‘co-funding’ to the project, made up of $400,000-a-year in cash and $450,000-a-year as ‘in-kind’ contributions.

Key end users, including councils, central government, and iwi, would provide advice and feedback throughout the life of the project, Dr Moore said.

“This will ensure that the models retain the ability to make accurate predictions that are important for the nation while remaining as simple, efficient, and fast as possible,” she said.

Progress results would be communicated through a number of channels including presentations to user groups, hui, visibility in the media, open-access websites and databases, conferences, and scientific journals.

Assisting GNS Science in the research team will be specialists from NIWA, ESR, Victoria University of Wellington, University of Waikato, Market Economics, Earth in Mind, Land Water People Ltd, and Kitson Consulting Ltd.

In addition, technical input will come from international collaborators including three Australian organisations - CSIRO, Flinders University, and Watermark Numerical Computing – and Tubingen University in Germany.

End users will include representatives from Waikato, Greater Wellington and Southland regional councils plus the Department of Conservation, Beef and Lamb NZ, and Ravensdown.

END

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