Monday, 09 September 2019 12:10

New facility at Adelaide Uni will help track groundwater sources

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Research technician Punjehl Crane at the CSIRO Noble Gas Mass Spectrometry Laboratory in Adelaide. Research technician Punjehl Crane at the CSIRO Noble Gas Mass Spectrometry Laboratory in Adelaide. Supplied

Researchers from CSIRO and the University of Adelaide have built a facility to track individual atoms of noble gases like Argon and Krypton and thereby understand the age, origin and inter-connectivity of groundwater and how it has moved underground through space and time.

Called the Atom Trap Trace Analysis facility, it was launched on Monday with the claim that it would protect Australia's groundwater from overuse and contamination.

It will also permit researchers to look into the part climate of Antarctica and hence understand global environmental change.

A statement from the two organisations said this was the first facility of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. Along with the Noble Gas Facility at the CSIRO's Waite campus in Adelaide, it meant that Australia had one of the most comprehensive means for analysing noble gases.

“Australia relies on its groundwater for 30% of its water supply for human consumption, stock watering, irrigation and mining,” said Professor Andre Luiten, director of the University’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing which houses the ATTA facility.

“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.

“Because noble gases don’t easily react chemically, they are the gold standard for environmental tracers to track groundwater movements.

"Before this new facility, researchers wanting to measure these ultra-low concentrations of noble gases had to rely on a very small number of overseas laboratories which can’t meet demand for their services.”

CSIRO senior principal research scientist Dr Dirk Mallants said the new ATTA facility would enable researchers to determine how old groundwater was, from decades and centuries up to a million years.

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

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

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

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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