Skip to content
Resources > Latest News > Trapping atoms to trace groundwater

Groundwater research traps atoms to trace answers

At a new facility in Adelaide, researchers are looking to the past for answers about the future of groundwater.

The Atom Trap Trace Analysis (ATTA) centre at the University of Adelaide’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) uses advanced laser physics to count individual atoms of noble gases that are naturally found in groundwater. 

By measuring the concentrations of these gases, researchers can deduce the age and origin of the groundwater source, and how it has moved underground through space and time.

As Australia relies on groundwater for 30% of its water supply, including for human consumption, stock watering, irrigation and mining, IPAS Director Professor Andre Luiten said it is important to understand it.

University of Adelaide researcher Dr Rohan Glover at 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,” Luiten said.

"We need to make sure it's sustainable.”

The ATTA facility is a collaboration with the CSIRO and, combined with the CSIRO’s Noble Gas Facility, will give Australia one of the most comprehensive noble gas analysis capabilities in the world.

CSIRO Senior Principal Research Scientist Dr Dirk Mallants said understanding where the groundwater has come from and what the recharge rates are will help with 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,” Mallants said.

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

Learn more:

Are you working on an innovative and interesting project? Why not submit a paper, panel or workshop about it for Ozwater’20? To find out more, click here.