How is nuclear science used in the management of water resources?

Answer: Sustainable management of water resources is receiving a very high priority. Nuclear techniques are used for isotope hydrology in order to trace the water movements.

 

Background

Key to sustainable management of water resources is having the knowledge needed to make the right decisions. Isotope hydrology is a nuclear technique that uses both stable and radioactive environmental isotopes to trace the movements of water in the hydrological cycle. Isotopes can be used to investigate underground sources of water to determine their source, how they are recharged, whether they are at risk of saltwater intrusion or pollution, and whether they can be used in a sustainable manner.

Monitoring the Hydrological Cycle using Isotopes gives a picture which allows hydrologists to map groundwater sources and climatologists to better assemble climate history, setting signposts for the impact of future events as climate change occurs. Isotopes open a window onto extended periods of weather events over thousands of years. Their signatures are preserved wherever the water cycle is recorded, in ocean and lake sediments, tree rings, glaciers and ice caps, deposits in caves and groundwater

Isotope hydrology is a very cost effective means to assess the vulnerability of groundwater sources to pollution. By determining how rapidly the water is moving and where in the system it is being recharged, isotopes provide critical information to guide decisions on where to extract water. Such decisions can sometimes mean a difference between prosperity and misery.

Sustainable use of water resources is a global responsibility. Through the hydrological cycle, all water on earth is affected by human activity. With the prospect of growing water scarcity looming ever more real, decisions on where to extract water, how much of it to use, and how to manage it must be based on reliable information, if we are to protect this precious water resources for future generations. Isotope hydrology is an important tool being used around the world to provide the information needed to make the right decisions for today and for tomorrow.