Dynamics of the Ocean Floor

SMART - Sustainable Management of Offshore Groundwater Resources

Figure 1. Cartoon depicting the differences between active (connected) and fossil (disconnected) offshore aquifers. The modern day active aquifers are recharged by precipitation (green arrows). Fossil aquifers are no longer fed by meteoric water and are subject to saltwater intrusion (red arrows).

Chief Scientists: Dr. Bradley Weymer (GEOMAR), Prof. Dr. Christian Berndt (GEOMAR), Dr. Marion Jegen (GEOMAR), Dr. Mark Schmidt (GEOMAR) and Prof. Dr. Aaron Micallef (University of Malta)

Collaborators: Dr. Christian Hensen (GEOMAR), Dr. Volker Liebetrau (GEOMAR), Dr. Amir Haroon (GEOMAR), Prof. Dr. Mark Everett (Texas A&M University), Dr. Dionisis Patiris (Hellenic Centre for Marine Research)
Project period: 01.01-2019 - 31.12.2021
Sponsored by: Helmholtz European Partnering Fund
Participating institutions: University of Malta, Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), Texas A&M University, Hellenic Centre for Marine Research

Project Summary

Groundwater resources in coastal regions are facing enormous stress caused by population growth, increased pollution and climate change, with the recent crisis in Cape Town - a city with 4.5 million inhabitants that just escaped a total shutdown of fresh water supply - being just the latest prominent example. Offshore aquifers (OAs) - freshwater bodies located beneath the seafloor - have been proposed as an alternative source of freshwater. However, there are a number of first-order questions that need to be addressed before OAs can be exploited sustainably. These include a lack of understanding of the location, nature, geometry and architecture of OAs, their connectivity with onshore aquifers, and their evolution in response to potential exploitation and predicted climate change. Here we propose the project SMART, which will lead to a step change in the methodology used to characterise OAs and in our understanding of how they can be used sustainably. Specifically, we will (1) Develop a best practice guide on how to combine geophysical measurements with geochemical characterisation to detect, characterise and monitor OAs, (2) Quantify the hydrologic budget of OAs, and (3) Predict how OAs will change in response to extraction and sea level rise associated to climate change. SMART will entail a unique integration of innovative concepts and techniques from terrestrial and marine geology, geochemistry, geophysics, and hydrogeology to reach the project objectives. The outcomes of the SMART project will be shared with a wide range of stakeholders via scientific publications, conference communications, website, social media, interviews and press releases, public understanding of science activities, workshops and a best-practice guide. The project will bring together five scientists from GEOMAR and two scientists from the University of Malta (UoM), in addition to four newly appointed junior researchers. This team will conduct the project and build up an international centre for offshore groundwater research. This will increase GEOMAR’s international visibility and puts groundwater research onto GEOMAR’s POFIV agenda as one of the grand challenges that is not being addressed by its present POF program. The cooperation and capacity building activities planned by GEOMAR and UoM include advanced training schools, exchange programs, mutual participation in advisory bodies, joint sessions at international conferences, and joint scientific publications.

Study Area - Malta

Figure 2. Study area offshore Malta. Within the dashed black box there are single-channel 2D seismic lines, and complete multi-beam echosounder coverage. The CSEM lines (yellow) were acquired in October 2018. The red box and the red lines are approximate locations for the data that will be acquired in year 2 of SMART. The precise location and survey configuration as well as the geochemical sampling programme will depend on the results of the first year of SMART.