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From the clouds to the ground

Researchers are taking to the skies to map deep underground in an effort to better understand Wairarapa’s aquifers.

The project, led by Greater Wellington Regional Council, involves flying SkyTEM technology over the region over the next six-to-eight weeks, scanning up to 300 metres deep into the ground in an effort to map the region’s aquifers.

An aquifer is a layer of gravel or sand that holds or transports water below ground.

The SkyTEM electromagnetic scan will provide a more complete picture of the Ruamahanga Valley’s complex geology and aquifers, helping people make better decisions about water use in the future.

GNS Science will use the data they collect to create 3D maps of the Wairarapa valley’s aquifers, the thickness of potential water-bearing layers, and their relationship with surface water.

The maps should be complete by early 2025.

The project comes as a collaboration between GWRC, GNS Science, and SkyTEM.

GWRC environment committee and climate change committee chair Penny Gaylor said despite the fact that Wairarapa and the rest of New Zealand had seen an over abundance of water recently, it was important to figure out how to
store and use it in drier times.

GNS Science environmental processes and modelling team leader Richard Kellett said Wairarapa historically had periods of drought, and climate change predictions suggested that temperatures were going to continue to climb.

“Those years of drought could potentially come more frequently,” he said

Those periods of drought were what would put pressure on our aquafers, possibly reducing the quantity of water they hold.

GNS Science environment and climate research leader Richard Levy, who grew up in Masterton, said climate change was changing the world’s systems already, but he had a special interest in its impacts on groundwater systems.

“Humans don’t do very well without water … freshwater is absolutely fundamental to our existence,” he said.

Levy said before research could be done on the projected changes to groundwater systems, an assessment of its current state needed to be done – which is exactly what the new project will do.

Kellett said 80 to 90 per cent of the groundwater that is used in Wairarapa is supporting agriculture and the production of fibre.

He said water is an important aspect of the region’s livelihood.

Wairarapa Federated Farmers president David Hayes said the initiative was fantastic, and it had been a long time coming.

“Water storage … is really important to us for the future of the region and for farming.

“We need to get on with it,” he said.

Gaylor said GWRC had previously collected information about aquifers by drilling boreholes, which provides detailed information about a specific location to relatively shallow depths.

“It’s far more efficient to scan the area from the air as we can quickly cover a larger distance, to a greater depth and a far greater level of detail,” she said.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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