Conference Abstracts

All Abstracts were presented at the Groundwater Conferences

Displaying 1 - 10 of 220 results
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Israel, S; Nel, J

Globally, cumulative plastic production since 1950 is estimated to have reached 2500 Mt of plastic. It is estimated up 60% of this plastic is either resting in landfills or the natural environment, including groundwater settings. Microplastics are small pieces of plastic ranging between 1μm – 5mm in size and have been found in every ecosystem and environment on the planet. Much of the available literature on microplastics is focused on marine environments with few in comparison focused on freshwater environments, and even fewer on groundwater settings. The aim of this study is therefore to investigate the attenuation process responsible for influencing microplastic transport in saturated sands. This research will adapt colloid transport theory and experiments to better understand the movement of microplastics through sandy media. Saturated aquifer conditions will be set up and simulated using modified Darcy column experiments adapted from Freeze & Cherry (1979). Modified microplastics will be injected into the columns as tracers and the effluent concentrations measured by Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). Breakthrough curves will then be plotted using the effluent concentrations to determine the attachment efficiency (α). It is expected the attachment efficiency will vary by microplastic type and size range. The Ionic strength of the solution flowing through the column and the surface charges of both microplastics and sandy surfaces are likely to influence the degree of attenuation observed. The relationship between different types of microplastics and collector surfaces from a charge perspective and their influence on the degree of attenuation will be evaluated. Given the lack of literature, its ubiquitous presence and postulated effects on human health, this research is significant. Through this research, the transport and attenuation of microplastics through sandy aquifers can be better understood, and in the process inform future research and water resource management.


This paper describes the characteristics of the deep aquifer systems in South Africa as derived from the available data. The study formed part of the larger WRC project K5/2434 (Characterisation and Protection of Potential Deep Aquifers in South Africa). A review of the available literature relevant to potential deep aquifers in South Africa was done to allow characterisation of these aquifer systems. In addition, data obtained from the geological logs of the SOEKOR and KARIN boreholes were considered.

This paper focuses on deep aquifers in 1) the Karoo Supergroup, 2) the basement and crystalline bedrock aquifers, 3) the Table Mountain Group, 4) the Bushveld Igneous Complex and 5) the dolomites of the Transvaal Supergroup. From the available data the deep aquifer systems are described in terms of the following characteristics: lithology, occurrence, physical dimensions, aquifer type, saturation level, heterogeneity and degree of isotropy, formation properties, hydraulic parameters, pressurisation, yield, groundwater quality, and aquifer vulnerability.

The results of the study show that the deep aquifer systems of South Africa are generally fractured hard-rock aquifers in which secondary porosity was developed through processes such as fracturing and dissolution. The primary porosity of most of the rocks forming the aquifers is very low. Apart from the dolomite aquifers, most of the water storage occurs in the rock matrices. Groundwater flow predominantly takes place along the fractures and dissolution cavities which act as preferential pathways for groundwater migration. The aquifers are generally highly heterogeneous and anisotropic.

The deep aquifers are generally confined and associated with positive hydraulic pressures. The groundwater quality generally decreases with depth as the salinity increases. However, deep dolomite aquifers may contain groundwater of good quality. Due to the large depths of occurrence, the deep aquifer systems are generally not vulnerable to contamination from activities at surface or in the shallow subsurface. The deep dolomite aquifers are a notable exception since they may be hydraulically linked to the shallower systems through complex networks of dissolution cavities. The deep aquifers are, however, very vulnerable to over-exploitation since low recharge rates are expected.


This paper describes the results of study aimed at consolidating the available data sources on deep aquifers and deep groundwater conditions in South Africa. The study formed part of the larger WRC Project K5/2434 (Characterisation and Protection of Potential Deep Aquifers in South Africa). Since very little is known about the aquifer conditions below depths of 300 m, all groundwater information from depths greater than 300 m was considered to represent the deep aquifer systems. Various confirmed and potential sources of data on deep aquifers and groundwater conditions were identified and interrogated during this study, namely:

1. Boreholes of the International Heat Flow Commission (IHFC). The IHFC database indicates the location of 39 deep boreholes ranging in depth from 300 to 800 m, with an average depth of 535 m.
2. The Pangea database of the International Council for Science (ICSU). The Pangea database has information on 119 boreholes in South Africa, of which 116 are deeper than 300 m.
3. A database on deep boreholes at the Council for Geoscience (CGS). This database contains information on 5 221 boreholes with depths exceeding 300 m.
4. Information on the deep SOEKOR boreholes drilled during the 1960s and 1970s (at least 38 boreholes).
5. Information on deep boreholes from the database of the Petroleum Agency SA.
6. The National Groundwater Archive (NGA) of the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS).
7. Information derived from the thermal springs in South Africa.
8. Boreholes drilled as part of the Karoo Research Initiative (KARIN).
9. Information on the locations and depths of underground mines in South Africa. Information on the occurrence of deep groundwater could potentially be obtained from these mines.

The study shows that, although information on a vast number of deep groundwater sites is listed in the various databases, the data relevant to the geohydrological conditions are scant at most sites. This paucity of geohydrological data implies that the deep aquifers of South Africa are currently poorly understood.


Three dimensional numerical flow modelling has become one of the best tools to optimise and management wellfields across the world. This paper presents a case study of simulating an existing wellfield in an alluvial aquifer directly recharged by a major perennial river with fluctuating head stages. The wellfield was originally commissioned in 2010 to provide a supply of water to a nearby Mine. Ten large diameter boreholes capable of abstracting ±2 000 m3 /hour were initially installed in the wellfield. The numerical groundwater flow model was used to evaluate if an additional 500 m3 /hour could be sustainably abstract from the alluvial aquifer system. A probabilistic river flow assessment and surface water balance model was used to quantify low and average flow volumes for the river and used to determine water availability in the alluvial aquifer over time. Output generated indicated that the wellfield demand only exceeded the lowest 2% (98th percentile) of measured monthly river flow over a 59 year period, thereby proving sufficient water availability. Conceptual characterisation of the alluvial aquifer was based on previous feasibility studies and monitoring data from the existing hydrogeological system. Aquifer parameters was translated into the model discretisation grid based on the conceptual site model while the MODFLOW River package was used to represent the river. Actual river stage data was used in the calibration process in addition to water levels of monitoring boreholes and pump tests results. The input of fluctuating river water levels proved essential in obtaining a low model error (RMSE of 0.3). Scenario modelling was used to assess the assurance of supply of the alluvial aquifer for average and drought conditions with a high confidence and provided input into further engineering designs. Wellfield performance and cumulative drawdown were also assessed for the scenario with the projected additional yield demand. Scenario modelling was furthermore used to optimise the placement of new boreholes in the available wellfield concession area.


Veltman, S

It has become increasingly apparent that understanding fractured rock mechanics as well as the interactions and exchanges between groundwater and surface water systems are crucial considering the increase in demand of each in recent years. Especially in a time where long term sustainability is of great importance for many water management agencies, groundwater professionals and the average water users. Previous callow experience has shown that there is a misunderstanding in the correct interpretation and analyses of pumping test data. The fracture characterisation (FC) method software provides a most useful tool in the overall understanding of a fractured rock aquifer, quantification of the aquifer’s hydraulic (flow regime and flow boundary conditions) and physical properties, only if the time-drawdown relationships are correctly interpreted and when the theoretical application principles are applied. Interpretation is not simply a copy and paste of the aquifer test data into the software to get a quick answer (especially when project time constraints are considered), however, recent experiences with numerous field examples, required intricate understanding of the geological environment, intended use and abstraction schedules coupled with the academic applications on which the software was based for correct interpretation. Through the application of correct interpretation principles, a plethora of flow information becomes available, of which examples will be provided in the presentation itself. By achieving this, flow can be conceptualised for inputs into a conservative scale three-dimensional numerical flow model and calibrated based on measurable data in a fraction of the time of a conventional regional model. Although higher confidence levels are achieved with these practical solutions, monitoring programmes are still required to provide better insight of the aquifer responses to long-term abstraction and recovery.


Arsenic is a common contaminant typically found in effluent from gold mine operations and copper smelters throughout the world. The geochemical behaviour of arsenic in contact with dolomite underlying an arsenic containing waste rock pile was investigated. The interaction between the arsenic and the dolomite is an important control in the subsequent transport of the arsenic in the dolomitic aquifer. Rocks with varying dolomite content were tested to investigate the interaction between the arsenic and dolomite. From the modelling and test results it was estimated that in the aquifer, between 60 - 90% of arsenic is present in the solid phase under oxidation conditions at >50 mV. At 50 to -25 mV about 40 - 60% of the arsenic is estimated to be present in the solid phase and below -25 mV about 0 - 10% of arsenic will be present in the solid phase. Although some arsenic is removed by the dolomite in the aquifer the arsenic would still be present above acceptable guidelines for drinking water. The arsenic in the solid phase will be in equilibrium with the aquifer water and could be remobilised 1) under more reducing conditions or 2) with a decrease in arsenic in the aquifer.


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.


Heller, H

Stringent drinking water standards for constituents like chromium, arsenic, and nitrates, combined with continually higher demand for groundwater resources have led to the need for more efficient and accurate well characterization. Many boreholes are screened across multiple aquifers to maximize groundwater production, and since these aquifers can have different water qualities, the water produced at the wellhead is a blend of the various water qualities. Furthermore, the water entering a well may not be distributed equally across the screened intervals, but instead be highly variable based on the transmissivity of the aquifers, the depth of the pump intake, the pumping rate, and whether any perforations are sealed off due to physical, chemical, or biological plugging. By identifying zones of high and low flows and differing water qualities, well profiling is a proven technology that helps optimize operational groundwater production from water supply boreholes or remediation systems. This frequently results in increased efficiencies and reduced treatment costs. By accurately defining groundwater quantity and quality, dynamic profiling provides the data needed to optimize well designs. Conventional exploration methods frequently rely on selecting well screen intervals based on performing and analyzing drill stem tests for one zone at a time. Using dynamic flow and water quality profiling, the transmissivity and water quality can be determined for multiple production zones in a matter of one to two days. It also allows the location and size of the test intervals to be adjusted in the field, based on real-time measurements. In this paper we discuss dynamic well profiling techniques with project case examples of characterization different types groundwater boreholes for a variety of applications and industries resulting in significant cost saving and sustainable water abstraction.


This keynote paper addresses several issues central to the conference theme of “Change, Challenge and Opportunity”. For hydrogeologists to exert greater influence on groundwater management globally, proper education and training is essential. Universities play a key role in educating hydrogeologists in the fundamental principles of groundwater science through taught Masters and other degree programmes. Scientific associations such as the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) also have an important part to play in education and training through short courses, conferences and mentoring schemes, and in enhancing groundwater science through journal and book publications and scientific commissions. IAH’s mission is to promote the wise use and protection of groundwater and, in this respect, a series of Strategic Overview papers have been prepared to inform professionals in other sectors of the interactions between groundwater and these sectors. Two of the Strategic Overview papers focus on the SDGs and global change, and some of the groundwater challenges in these areas are described. Whilst these challenges will provide hydrogeologists with opportunities to influence global water issues in the 21st century, hydrogeologists will need to be able to communicate effectively with all of the stakeholders, using traditional and more modern forms of communication, including social media.


Approximately 982 km3 /annum of the world’s groundwater reserve is abstracted, providing almost half of all drinking water worldwide. Globally, 70% is used for agricultural purposes while 38% for irrigation.

Most water resources of South Africa are threatened by contamination caused by industrial, agricultural, and commercial activities, and many parts of the country face ongoing drought with an urgent need to find alternative freshwater sources, such as groundwater. Groundwater constitutes approximately 15% of the total volume consumed, hence it is an important resource that supplements insufficient surface water supplies across South Africa.

Very little attention has been afforded to understanding the anthropogenically altered vadose zone as a potential source or buffer to groundwater contamination. This is evident from few research studies that has applied multiple isotopic tracers to characterise this zone. Most subsurface systems in South Africa are characterised by fractures, whereby flow and transport are concentrated along preferential flow paths.

This study aims to evaluate the performance of different tracer classes (environmental and artificial) with one another, and create a better understanding of the hydraulic properties, mean residence time and transport mechanisms of these tracers. The influence of unsaturated zone thickness on recharge mechanisms will also be evaluated.

Site visits will be conducted for the proposed study areas, and the neighbouring sources of contamination will be assessed. The matric potential and unsaturated hydraulic conductivities will be measured using various techniques. Water samples will be collected and analysed for the various tracers from the vadose zone using gravity lysimeters including suction cups. Several tracers will also be injected into boreholes where samples will be collected to calculate tracer residence times (BTC’s) and further constrain the hydraulic properties of the vadose zone. All samples will be analysed, interpreted, and simulated using the numerical finite-element modelling code SPRING, developed by delta h. The software derives quantitative results for groundwater flow and transport problems in the saturated and unsaturated zones of an aquifer.

The research is expected to provide more insight into the selection and use of environmental and artificial tracers as markers for detecting, understanding the transport processes and pathways of contaminants in typical altered South African subsurface environments. The impact derived improved characterisation of the pathways, transport, and migration processes of contaminants, leading to groundwater protection strategies and appropriate conceptual and numerical models. The output from this study will determine the vertical and horizontal flux for both saturated and unsaturated conditions.