If someone dropped a thermonuclear bomb on Niagara Falls, not only would Canada's version of Las Vegas be transformed into gaseous plastic, but many of the world's foremost hydrogeologists would likewise be vaporized. Yeah, lots of groundwater geeks are running amok here in Ontario at IAH 2012, like so many kids in a candy store.
My last visit to Niagara Falls was in the early 1960s, long before there were so many hotels. In fact, I cannot recall much development at all. But enough of that.
So here are my impressions of Day 1.
Ooops! Someone welcomed us by noting that we are meeting at the outlet that drains 20% of the world's freshwater [North American Great Lakes]. Incorrect (see here), plus that's not a good thing to say to a meeting of an organization that deals with 98% of the world's available (non-frozen) freshwater.
But it was all uphill from there.
Dr. Jozsef Toth Plenary
Dr. Jozsef Toth is one of the giants of hydrogeology, and that's not modified by the adjective 'Canadian'. He addressed the past 50 years or so of Canadian hydrogeology, focusing on the regional hydrogeology and the extraordinary contributions of a small number of Canadian scientists - himself, Meyboom, Freeze, Cherry, Farvolden, et al. - who advanced the fledgling science greatly.
I have posted about Toth's and related work before; visit this site and scroll down to below the first figure. There you will see some of his work and Allan Freeze's as well.
Toth spoke of the freedom they had in those days. Why? Because their supervisors knew even less about hydrogeology than they did! Toth and his compatriots were bright, driven, and loved what they were doing. Their training was often in other fields (he was trained as a geophysicist).
They had few data points (wells) where they worked in the Prairie Provinces so they had to discern groundwater conditions primarily from their knowledge of geology and surficial expressions of groundwater (springs, seeps, recharge areas, etc.). Toth started constructing analytical mathematical models of regional groundwater flow systems. R Allan Freeze then used the digital computer to consider heterogeneity and other features. I recall using Freeze's dissertation, which had been published by the Canadian government, as a text in a 1972 class.
Toth made an insightful comment, attributed to his colleague P. Meyboom, saying that the Canadians were the 'vanguard against American water-well hydrology'. That referred to the sense that US hydrogeologists were focused on well hydraulics and aquifer tests ('post-Theisisan' era) and less so on regional hydrogeology (although it should be noted that Americans like N.H. Darton, O.E. Meinzer, M. King Hubbert, and T.C. Chamberlin had tackled regional groundwater flow in the late 1800s early 1900s). But Toth and his colleagues took regional hydrogeology. to new heights.
Toth also graciously acknowledged my former Desert Research Institute colleagues Burke Maxey and Martin Mifflin for their work in applying the work by Toth et al. to desert basins.
Toth concluded by listing four reasons for the success of the Canadian school of hydrogeology:
1) challenge of a new hydrogeological terrain;
2) need to develop groundwater supplies;
3) ignorance - well-educated nonspecialists who were unaware of traditional approaches; and
4) freedom to think and experiment.
And he showed a Canadian coin that had a depiction of the hydrological cycle on one side.
An excellent reminiscence by a great hydrogeologist, someone whose early work and that of Allan Freeze made quite an impression upon a budding hydrogeologist 40 years ago.
Toth's lecture was just the start of a big day. Here is a pdf of the day's Technical Sessions.
You can search for the abstracts here. You can get authors' email addresses from the abstracts.
I spent most of the rest of the day in the Groundwater for Decision Makers sessions; it hard to chose between those sessions and the Groundwater Sustainability sessions. But I was not disappointed.
The presentation by Suzanne Pierce of the University of Texas-Austin's Jackson School of Geosciences struck me as few have in recent history. It dealt with the ENCOMPASS Cyberinfrastructure Project. I know - you're thinking, "How nerdy-sounding is that?" But it is more like 'collaborative modeling on steroids' as I coined it.
Here is the blurb on the ENCOMPASS home page:
The ENCOMPASS cyberinfrastructure project provides a systems view of energy, environmental, and earth resource issues with the goal of spanning boundaries: across centers of knowledge, disciplines, cultures, technologies, resource type, and global hemispheres.
Nerdy, huh? She's using this platform to work with indigenous groups and geothermal energy development in northern Chile. She said one thing that struck me: the indigenous people are not in this because of some spiritual belief (although they do believe that one hot spring system are 'the lungs of Earth') but because they do not believe their lives have been as valued as the mining industry, which dominates the region.
In general, she is working at the science-society interface. What she discussed in her brief quarter-hour stint was a vision of the future when it comes to fomenting collaboration and cooperation, using the latest in technology.
Give her work a look.
He gave a few facts about California's groundwater, although the major issue is that it is is not regulated or managed on a statewide basis, and there are over 1,400 agencies involved with groundwater. Parker has been involved with efforts to educate legislators and stakeholders for years, through the Groundwater Resources Association of California (GRAC) and the California Groundwater Coalition and on his own. Key takeaways: know your facts, be objective, don't go in with your hand out, and tone down the jargon (KISS - 'Keep It Simple, Stupid' - my comment, not Parker's).
Another good friend and colleague, David Kreamer of UNLV, enlightened us as to the importance of groundwater to international security. The historical perspective was entertaining and educational as was the warning that with the effects of global warming on surface water supplies, groundwater resources may be subject to increasing conflict.
Karen Villholth of IWMI spoke on providing providing groundwater management capacity support to African River, Lake, and Aquifer Basin Organizations (RLABOs). This one resonated with me because it showcased the difficulty of 'injecting' groundwater considerations into organizations traditionally focused on surface water. Not an easy thing to do. Groundwater and IWRM, anyone?
Other notable presentations were given by Andrew Stone; Shaminder (Shammy) Puri; H.C. Simpson; Gayle Soo Chan; and Jose Carrillo-Rivera. Each of these dealt with either outreach/education or informing (or inability to, as in the case of Carrillo-Rivera) decision makers. Puri's dealt with transboundary groundwater.
That't about it - excellent day, and I probably cannot recall it all.
Time to head to the meeting - here is what is on tap for today.
For you Twitter Tweeters, the hashtag is #iah2012.
"If you come to a fork in the road, take it." - Yogi Berra