Towards a conceptual understanding of groundwater-ecosystems interactions in the Tuli-Karoo transboundary aquifer

Xu,Y; Kanyerere, T

Currently, there is little understanding of the nature and extent of groundwater-dependent ecosystems (GDEs) at catchment or aquifer scale globally, making it difficult to protect and incorporate them in integrated groundwater resources management plans. Groundwater levels fluctuations could alter groundwater accessibility patterns to GDEs, potentially resulting in groundwater quality deterioration too. The understanding of groundwater-ecosystems interactions is generally poor since most historical research has been skewed to surface water-related ecosystems. There exists a research need towards the understanding of groundwater processes that control the maintenance of GDEs at local level, through conceptual modelling. A study has been initiated in the Tuli-Karoo transboundary aquifer (TBA) – shared between Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe in the Limpopo Basin - to address this scientific knowledge gap because of possible cross-border negative impacts on respective groundwater resources attributed to interlinked aquifer systems’ nature between riparian countries. Ecosystems’ protective measures here are country-specific, disregarding neighbouring countries activities and based on low-flow requirements through baseflow, largely excluding terrestrial GDEs. Groundwater resource co-management agreements are also non-existent among sharing countries, warranting a collaborative approach to research. Potential GDEs in this TBA include riparian vegetation along the main stem Limpopo River and its major tributaries (Shashe and Mzingwane); terrestrial vegetation of Mopane bioregion of the Savanna Biome; and seasonal and permanent wetlands, pans and springs. Isotope analysis have ascertained dependency partly in one country and therefore extended to cover the TBA. Tuli-Karoo is characterized by shallow unconfined alluvium aquifer systems of the Karoo sandstones and basalts of shallow to medium depths. A conceptual model developed will demonstrate interactions between groundwater, surface water and ecosystems; allowing for assessments of impacts on GDEs to ensure resilience. Although TBA focused, the findings will be applicable to similar national aquifers in terms of lithology, geology, geohydrology and ecosystems types.

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