Protecting our environment

A major priority in 2005 was the groundwater work undertaken as part of the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD). This Directive will have a positive impact on the lives of all Europeans in the coming decade, ensuring all residents have access to clean water supplies. GSI work on groundwater, supporting its other partners in this important task, was done in the context of River Basin District (RBD) projects. It involved analysis and characterisation studies, convening the WFD Groundwater Working Group and contributing to various WFD national committees and RBD project steering groups.

There remains a strong demand from local authorities for county-based Groundwater Protection Schemes (GWPS), which constitute an important planning tool, and GSI is striving to respond to this demand within its resource constraints. In late 2005, a GWPS for County Cavan was started. The groundwater vulnerability maps for Kilkenny, North Tipperary, Laois, Kildare, Meath and Monaghan were up-dated using the newly-released Teagasc subsoils map as a basis. Two source protection reports and maps were completed for public and group water supply wells and springs at Ballyshannon and Pettigo in County Donegal.

Groundwater

There remains a strong demand from local authorities for county-based Groundwater Protection Schemes (GWPS), which constitute an important planning tool, and GSI is striving to respond to this demand within its resource constraints. In late 2005, a GWPS for County Cavan was started. The groundwater vulnerability maps for Kilkenny, North Tipperary, Laois, Kildare, Meath and Monaghan were up-dated using the newly-released Teagasc subsoils map as a basis. Two source protection reports and maps were completed for public and group water supply wells and springs at Ballyshannon and Pettigo in County Donegal.

GSI continued to provide advice to the Exploration and Mining Division of our parent Department on water related aspects of mining developments, including both current and former operations.

In 2005, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government agreed to GSI becoming a statutory consultee for planning matters relating to quarrying and extensive infrastructure projects. It is expected that a new Statutory Instrument giving legal affect to this matter will be signed by the Minister in 2006. GSI also responds to planning submissions relating to environmental impact statements and planning applications: it received 60 applications in 2005 (62 in 2004) and its comments tended to focus on geotechnical and heritage issues.

Back to the top

Groundwater: The impact of the EU Water Framework Directive

Progress is always pleasing to report. In the last three years, the implementation of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the work undertaken by the GSI, Teagasc, EPA, local authorities and RBD (river basin district) consultants has advanced considerably the understanding of groundwater in Ireland. Groundwater has been ‘characterised’ and, in the process, a new aquifer map of Ireland has been produced, all readily available groundwater data have been collected, soils and subsoils mapping has been undertaken, the hydrochemistry of our groundwater has been assessed and over 700 ‘groundwater bodies’ (the management units under the WFD) have been delineated and described.

Generally, groundwater is a ‘hidden resource’, and the focus in the past has been mainly concerned with its use for drinking water. Now the focus is broader, and the WFD requires that it also be seen in terms of the link with, and contribution to, ecosystems, whether in surface water or wetlands. Risk characterisation which integrates pressures and impacts with the physical characterisation, has been undertaken to evaluate whether the groundwater bodies are ‘at risk’ of failing to meet the environmental objectives of the WFD. This has shown that a high proportion are indeed ‘probably at significant risk’; either from diffuse sources of pollution (mainly agricultural) or point sources (mainly old landfills, urban areas, or contaminated land).

Testing challenges lie ahead. The characterisation process, completed in March 2005, was a screening exercise, pointing the way forward and highlighting the main issues for the future. Now further characterisation and monitoring will be undertaken to decrease uncertainties and check the validity of the risk assessment results. In the process, our understanding of groundwater in Ireland will improve further. More controversially perhaps, a programme of measures will be required to ensure that there is no deterioration in the states of any groundwater bodies, and that the status of those classed as ‘poor’ is restored to ‘good’. This is likely to have implications for some current land uses in Ireland.

Our Fragile Earth
A major undersea earthquake on 26th December 2004 offshore Sumatra generated a powerful tsunami, which resulted in the deaths of almost 230,000 persons around the margins of the Indian Ocean. The ensuing humanitarian effort united people across the globe in a remarkable way, not least in the geoscience community. It responded with services to ensure safe water supplies from wells, mineral and aggregate materials to underpin reconstruction, and resurveyed seabed bathymetry to support maritime safety.

“The Sumatran Earthquake...caused planet Earth to shudder”

The Sumatran earthquake was of a scale that globally caused planet Earth to shudder. Even in Ireland its physical effects were registered when abrupt water level changes were registered in GSI and GSNI boreholes. Indeed this caused us to review similar water level changes against seismic events over the past 25 years, leading to the identification of at least 110 earthquakes, mostly of magnitudes greater than 7.0. However the Sumatran record stood out as generating an almost unique water level fluctuation. Indeed variations in the degree of fluctuation from one borehole to another has led groundwater specialists to believe that such catastrophic earthquakes may help us to understand better the nature of our aquifers.

The international response to disasters has been under scrutiny during 2005, as the impact was considered of Hurricane Katrina and the Pakistani Earthquake as well as the Sumatran Tsunami. In the case of the Sumatran Tsunami there was a considerable delay before aid arrived at some communities, suggesting casualties in these regions might have been averted. Acknowledging the need for quicker, more targeted and insightful responses, there is also the growing awareness that early warning systems would have saved a considerable number of lives and reduced property damage.

The available evidence indicates that Ireland’s coastal communities are themselves at risk from tsunamis generated by earthquakes or sub marine landslides in the North Atlantic. While the risk may have a low probability, its occurrence would have high impact and cannot be ignored. At the end of 2005 GSI was coordinating a national proposal for an effective tsunami warning system, integrated with evolving international systems and based on collaboration between relevant state organisations and the third level sector.

Global Monitoring for Environment and Security

Geology and Earth Observation
Arising from the 2001 Gothenburg summit, European leaders decided to implement and monitor comprehensive environmental and security policies in the context of sustainable development. To achieve these objectives, the European Commission together with the European Space Agency have developed the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) initiative, comprising space-borne and in-situ techniques to provide an operational and autonomous European capability.

GMES will provide three “fast-track” operational services by 2008 embracing Land Monitoring, Marine Core Services and Emergency Response; a possible fourth service in Atmospheric Monitoring is under construction. Data acquired through GMES will contribute to the INSPIRE (Infrastructure and Spatial Information in Europe) Directive. GMES will contribute to access, use and harmonisation of geospatial information at pan-European level and to interoperability of national systems.

GMES will be the main European contribution to the 10-year project GEOSS (Global Earth Observation System of Systems) managed by the US-led intergovernmental Group on Earth Observation (GEO). GEO involves about 60 countries (including Ireland) and 40 international organisations (including Eurogeosurveys).

Geologists in general, and GSI in particular, can contribute to the in situ ground component of GMES and GEOSS over the coming years and a wealth of further information can be obtained from the websites www.gmes.info and www.earthobservation.org. The Environmental Protection Agency and GSI provide the national delegates to the GMES Advisory Council and the GEO Plenary. Furthermore, at the ESA Ministerial Council of 6th December 2005 it was agreed that Ireland would participate fully in the next ESA Earth Observation Envelope Programme (EOEP) 2008-2012.

Back to the top

Back to Annual Report