Open Source Software for Hydrogeologists

There are various software packages used by hydrogeologists for a variety of purposes ranging from project management, database management, data interpretation, conceptual and numerical modelling and decision making. Software is either commercial (produced for sale) or open source (freely available to anyone and for any purpose).

The objective of this paper is to promote open source software that can be used by the hydrogeological community to reduce expenses, enhance productivity and maximise efficiency.

Free software was previously associated as being inferior in quality in the corporate world. Companies often use commercial software at a hefty price, but little do they know that open source is often equal to, or superior to their commercial counterparts. The source code of open source software can freely be modified and enhanced by anybody. Open source software is a prominent example of open collaboration as it is developed by users for the user community. Companies using open source software do not need to worry about licensing and do not require anti-piracy measures such as product activation or a serial number.

However, the decision of adopting open source software should not just be taken just on the basis of the low-cost involved. It should entail a detailed analysis and understanding of the requirements at stake, before switching to open source to achieve the full benefits it offers and to understand what the down side is. There are plenty of open source products that can be used by hydrogeologists. The packages considered in this article are those that are frequently used by the author and do not necessarily mean that they are the best available. Software gets updated or abandoned with time and what is considered powerful today may be obsolete in a few years.

Some of the well-known open source packages recommended for hydrogeologists include: OpenLibre for project management, Blender 3D or Sketchup for 3D conceptual modelling, QGIS for GIS mapping and database management, SAGA GIS for interpolation and ModelMuse for numerical modelling (comprising of Modflow for finite difference, Sutra for finite element and Phast for geochemical modelling). In addition, there are a number of free software packages developed by the USGS, various universities and consultants across the globe that can be used for aquifer test interpretation, borehole logging and time-series data analysis. A saving of more than R250,000 can be made per hydrogeologist by utilising such open source packages, while maintaining high quality work that is traditionally completed using commercial software.

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