Tuesday, August 31, 2021

What's news about socio-hydrogeology

by Enrico Cameron*

* National Coalition of Independent Scholars

Enrico Cameron
Groundwater is the most extracted raw material (estimated withdrawal around 1000 km3/year) (Margat and Van der Gun, 2013)
 and it delivers a wealth of ecosystem services, that is benefits that people obtain from ecosystems for free and can be used by humankind to guarantee and increase well-being (Daily, 1997; MA, 2005). Among these services the provision of water for human use and consumption, water storage, contaminant processing, nutrient cycling and the support of fisheries, wildlife, biodiversity and tourism. The so-called groundwater dependent ecosystems, also, rely upon groundwater for their continued existence.
In many parts of the world the quality and quantity of groundwater, and thus its ability to provide the aforesaid ecosystem services, are compromised or under threat because of anthropogenic drivers such as the release of chemicals into the environment (from agriculture, industrial processes and waste deposition), over-abstraction and alterations to the water cycle that are both local – induced for instance by modifications to the land cover - and global due to human related climate changes. Moreover, a fair access to adequate, safe and clean water (including groundwater) is hampered for billions of people for reasons that involve technical, political, economic and cultural aspects of different societies and groups as well as, often, inequalities stemming from power and gender disparities. The objective of the emerging discipline of socio-hydrogeology is to comprehend and assess the interaction between people and groundwater in order to help understanding and tackling these problems. Socio-hydrogeology seeks to integrate, in a structured way, the classical hydrogeological and hydrogeochemical assessments with social, behavioural and cognitive ones (Re, 2021) so as to investigate the reciprocal influence between individuals and communities one the one side and groundwater on the other side, consistently with the spirit of integrated water resources management which calls for "thinking beyond the aquifer"(Jakeman et al., 2016). Socio-hydrogeology, furthermore, aims to understand the impact of local know-how, risk perception, consumption and power relations on groundwater quality and quantity and to involve stakeholders and the public in order to build trust among groundwater users and managers and foster the implementation of sound science-based management practices for groundwater protection (Re, 2021). Theoretical and methodological tools and case studies are key for promoting the application of socio-hydrogeology. A relevant example in this respect is the Bir Al-Nas approach (Re, 2015, https://biralnas.wordpress.com/). Bir Al-Nas stands for Bottom-up IntegRated Approach for sustainabLe grouNdwater mAnagement in rural areaS, and is the acronym of a project – in the framework of the European Union's Marie Curie Fellowships - aimed at developing a replicable multidisciplinary example of integrated approach for science-based groundwater management practices, applied to the aquifer system in the Cap Bon Peninsula (Tunisia). The Arabic meaning of Bir Al-Nas, “the well of people”, emphasizes the effective inclusion of the social dimension into hydrogeological investigations (Re, 2015). An  important requirement of the Bir Al-Nas approach is to carry out a social network analysis (SNA) that investigates and categorizes the relationships between stakeholders and identifies the key actors that are likely to positively influence the implementation of new management practices resulting from a hydrogeochemical investigation.  The SNA, also, allows  to notice the presence of (and get in touch with) minorities, marginalized groups and ‘informal sectors’ that are directly affected by the water issue in question, but might not be considered through a traditional approach (Re, 2015). The Bir Al-Nas approach encourages hydrogeologists  to act as “social hydrologists” during their monitoring activities, which often bring them into contact with local communities and end users (and polluters) of water. Not only can they retrieve reliable information about traditional know-how and local issues, but they can also change the public perception of science and scientists to create the basis for mutual collaboration and understanding in view of implementing improved integrated groundwater management (Re, 2015).  Sociological data, in addition, can help to interpret and cross check the outcomes of standard hydrogeological and hydrogeochemical investigations concerning, for instance, the presence and characteristics of contamination sources as inferred from chemical analyses and from water users interviews (e.g. Re et al., 2017). Of course, the transdisciplinary nature of socio-hydrogeological studies points to involving multidisciplinary teams but these, often, are not available.
Geoethics underpins socio-hydrogeology first of all because the latter intrinsically acknowledges, and takes care of, the sociological aspects of the interactions between people and groundwater, promotes a more equitable use of groundwater resources and seeks information sharing as wells as the active participation of stakeholders and water users in studying and solving groundwater related problems. Geoethics, at the same time, offers a wider conceptual framework that, also, helps deciding what to do when dealing with competing and conflicting interests, views and values, that socio-hydrogeology may help to highlight and that are the norm when tackling environmental problems.


Daily G.C., Alexander S., Ehrlich P., Goulder L., Lubchenko J., Matson P.A., Mooney H.A., Postel S., Schneider S.H., Tilman D., Woodwell G.M. (1997). Ecosystem Services: Benefits Supplied to Human Societies by Natural Ecosystems, Issues in Ecology, 1:1-18.

Jakeman A.J., Barreteau O., Randall J.H., Rinaudo J.D., Ross A., Arshad M., Hamilton S. (2016). Integrated Groundwater Management: An Overview of Concepts and Challenges. In: Jakeman A.J., Barreteau O., Randall J.H., Rinaudo J.D., Ross A., eds. (2016). Integrated Groundwater Management – Concepts, Approaches and Challenges, SpringerOpen.

Margat J. and Van der Gun J. (2013). Groundwater around the World: A Geographic Synopsis, CRC Press.

MA (2005). Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

Re V. (2015). Incorporating the social dimension into hydrogeochemical investigations for rural development: the Bir Al-Nas approach for socio-hydrogeology. Hydrogeology Journal, 23: 1293–1304.

Re V., Sacchi E., Kammoun S., Tringali C., Trabelsi R., Zouari K., Daniele S. (2017). Integrated socio-hydrogeological approach to tackle nitrate contamination in groundwater resources. The case of Grombalia Basin (Tunisia). Science of the Total Environment 593, 664-676.

Re V. (2021) Socio-Hydrogeology and the power of transdisciplinary sciences (webinar), https://www.geoscienze.unipd.it/sites/geoscienze.unipd.it/files/Seminario_Re-Viviana_11-05-2021.pdf


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Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The "dark" side of the Moon (and space), between jurisprudence, politics and ecology

by Silvia Peppoloni*

This article was published in ReWriters Magazine, in Italian:

* Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Rome (Italy); Secretary General of the IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics; Councillor of the IUGS - International Union of Geological Sciences; Member of the Ethical Board of ICOS - Intergrated Carbon Observation System; Coordinator of IAPG-Italy; Member of the Board of Directors of the Italian Geological Society. Email: silvia.peppoloni@ingv.it

Silvia Peppoloni
The Outer Space Treaty promoted by the United Nations and entered into force in 1967 established the principles governing the activities of States on the exploration and utilization of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies. With this document, the nations agreed that the space "is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty" and that "exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind." Therefore, the exploitation of space resources, including those of the Moon, should be allowed only if it is preparatory to scientific explorations and research aimed at the good of all humanity, and any appropriation by individual countries should be prohibited.
Unfortunately, developments and events following the approval of this treaty have shown that space exploration is actually fuelled by geopolitical ambitions and ideological battles between nations to prove their technological might and make ownership claims on extraterrestrial bodies.
This difficult and tense international context is outlined in a recent article published by the EOS magazine of the American Geophysical Union, with references to ongoing legal and ethical disputes, to the most definite stands and to the proposals that suggest a way out.
In 1979, the United States refused to sign the Moon Agreement, another United Nations treaty that specifically declared that lunar resources were the "common heritage of mankind" and committed signatories to establishing an international regime of oversight when resource extraction was "about to become feasible." But the matter was far from over.
In 2015, the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama passed legislation that unilaterally gave American companies the right to own and sell natural resources they mine from celestial bodies, including the Moon. And in 2020, President Donald Trump issued an executive order proclaiming that "Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space [...] and the United States does not view it as a global commons."
In addition, Trump established the US Space Force, the first step towards a military presence in the space.
But other countries have also shown their interest in exploring the Moon. Among them, China that in 2019 landed a probe on the far side of our satellite, and Russia, which is re-proposing its lunar program, with a series of missions to starting in 2021 to drill the surface of the lunar south pole in search of water ice, helium-3, carbon, nitrogen and precious metals.
Some US companies, including SpaceX and Blue Origin, are already planning ways to claim resources on the Moon, while the company Japanese Ispace aims to extract lunar water and thus become the world leader of an economy based on space resources. It does not seem so far a future in which commercial spaceships will sail the sidereal spaces to bring precious rocks and metals back to Earth, and perhaps not only those, as frighteningly hypothesized by the science fiction movie "Alien".
Divergent positions on this race for extra-planetary exploitation are then found among experts from different sectors. American Scott Pace, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University and director of the U.S. Space Policy Institute, says that legally speaking, space is not a global commons, since commons implies common ownership and common responsibility, and this in its opinion is inadmissible, since it would allow other countries to have a say in what people do. United States in space. On the other hand, the Nigerian Gbenga Oduntan, a reader in international commercial law at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, argues instead that all countries should have a say in what happens in space and on the Moon, even countries that are not yet capable of or interested in going there, and adds that "commercialization of outer space in a Wild West mode is going to lead faster to disputes."
It is clear that the lack of regulation in this area is extremely dangerous for the future of space exploration.
Recently, US President Joe Biden promoted NASA's Artemis program, which includes non-binding bilateral agreements with other countries that want to collaborate with the United States in upcoming lunar missions (the agreement with Italy was signed in September 2020). These agreements are inspired by the disregarded treaty of 1967 and aim to set norms of behavior for activity on the Moon: they advocate a shared vision of principles to create a safe and transparent environment that facilitates the exploration, science and commercial activities of which all humanity can enjoy. But what appears to be an excellent omen for the future, is instead considered by some to be a way for the United States to legitimize the exploitation of space resources.
Having outlined the international context in which the prospects for the economic exploitation of space, and of the Moon in particular, move, however, we must consider that the development of a mining activity on the Moon seems increasingly probable, as growing numbers of countries and corporations hope to exploit its minerals to enable further exploration and commercial gain. Any extraction will require extraction machinery, processing facilities, transportation infrastructure, storage, and power sources, which will inevitably have a considerable environmental impact.
Furthermore, the discovery of water on the lunar surface (that can be split into hydrogen and oxygen and used to make space vehicles fuel) has made more realistic the possibility of establishing permanent human settlements, and exploiting the Moon as a potential stopping point on the journey to reach Mars.

But what effects could these activities have on our natural satellite? Is there a risk that humans could cause environmental damage to the Moon? What ethical rules could guide its exploitation? And finally, is this a real problem that we need to consider for the near future?

For a group of mainly Australian academics, made up of lawyers, space archaeologists and also interested citizens, a Declaration of the Rights of the Moon could be the right tool to preserve our satellite from future (and inevitable) anthropogenic impacts.
In order to foster debate and outline an ethics to exploit the lunar landscape for profit, the proponents of the declaration affirm that the Moon is "a sovereign natural entity in its own right and [...] possesses fundamental rights, which arise from its existence in the Universe." These rights include "the right to exist, persist and continue its vital cycles unaltered, unharmed and unpolluted by human beings; the right to maintain ecological integrity [...] and the right to remain a forever peaceful celestial entity, unmarred by human conflict or warfare."
Furthermore, they highlight the urgency of discussing such a legal instrument, as lunar mission planning is increasingly accelerating, while there is yet a worrying legal uncertainty about what private companies are allowed to do in space. And in any case, the Moon would not be the first natural entity to be granted legal rights for its protection: on Earth, for example, the Whanganui River and the Urewera Forest in New Zealand, the Ganges River in India and the Atrato River in Colombia already have been granted legal rights.
However, the declaration is raising great contrasts: in fact, for some, attributing fundamental rights to an inanimate object such as the Moon has no legal basis and is politically meaningless, also in consideration of the fact that the Moon is beyond the sovereignty of any nation, and therefore there is no sovereign power that can legally guarantee its rights.
But the discussion is very broad and concerns the whole future of space travel. In this regard, in a recent book on geoethics published by the Geological Society of London, the bioethicist Margaret McLean, proposes six principles and virtues to be applied outside the terrestrial space: stewardship, scientific integrity, prevention, prudent vigilance, intergenerational justice, and the last resort, that is the recognition of the intrinsic value of the Universe.

We are still very far from a clear and shared vision on space policies, but perhaps the Declaration of the Rights of the Moon could be an important beginning of discussion to arrive at a concrete solution of protection, a discussion in which everyone should be able to take part, like Erin O Donnell says, a water law expert and Rights for Nature activist at the University of Melbourne.

After all, the Moon is part of the life and imagination of every human being: it is present in all cultures, in myths, in literature, in popular legends. Its formation has made possible the development of life on Earth and continues to influence some fundamental dynamics, and this should be enough to consider it much more than a wasteland, barren and inanimate, to be fought over by nations.
Just as we must never forget, when we talk about the Moon, Mars and space travel, what the astrophysicist Stephen Hawking said "... Maybe in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies among the stars, but for now we have only one planet, and we must work together to protect it."


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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

New article:
Linking geological heritage and geoethics with a particular emphasis on palaeontological heritage: the new concept of ‘palaeontoethics’

How to cite:
DeMiguel D., Brilha J., Alegret L., Arenillas I., Arz J.A., Gilabert V., Strani F., Valenciano A., Villas E. and Azanza B. (2021). Linking geological heritage and geoethics with a particular emphasis on palaeontological heritage: the new concept of ‘palaeontoethics’. Geoheritage, 13, 69, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12371-021-00595-3

Free download:

Geoconservation and geoethics are two emergent domains in geosciences. During the last decade, both topics have increasingly gained the attention of geoscientists and the society, but the main geoethical dilemmas related to the conservation and management of geoheritage are not clearly identified yet. This work aims at providing an overview on the meaning and scope of geoethics and how it intersects geoheritage and the practice of geoconservation. Some case studies—many of which are under current debate and have a high potential as geoeducational resources—are presented for addressing ethical, social and cultural settings as well as dilemmas affecting geoheritage. We find that there are particular cases (mostly concerning the trade of fossils, and in particular the growing concern about activities that rely on amber from Myanmar) for which a clear dichotomy of views makes them much more problematic and complex. These cases deserve more suitable legal frameworks that help implement more balanced ethical standards and practice guidelines for geoconservation, guarantee human rights and needs in relation to that heritage and contribute to the advancement of geosciences. Particular attention is given to palaeontological heritage, as fossils are among the most threatened elements of the Earth’s diversity and are in need of more effective and statutory protection measures. In the context of geoethics applied to palaeontological heritage, and given the need of a clear understanding of what ethics in palaeontology means, a new concept—palaeontoethics—is proposed and formally defined.


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Monday, August 2, 2021

The IAPG section of Afghanistan

Welcome to the IAPG section of Afghanistan! 

The section is officially established on 2 August 2021 and will work under the responsibility of Mohammad Salem Hussaini (Kabul Polytechnic University) and 
Asadullah Farahmand (Ministry of Energy and Water, Kabul). IAPG-Afghanistan is the 34th national section of our Association.

Mohammad Salem Hussaini
Mohammad Salem Hussaini got the 
B.Sc. in Geology, Department of Geoscience, Faculty of Science, Sistan and Baluchestan University, Iran; M.Sc., Department of Geoscience, Isfahan University, Iran; and from 2017 is Assistant Professor at the Department of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology of the Kabul Polytechnic University. His current research field is on groundwater management for Kabul city and other districts in Afghanistan. He is working on artificial groundwater recharge (site section for managed aquifer recharge in Kabul city which includes spatial multi-criteria decision making techniques integrated by remote sensing and GIS), and on climate change impact on groundwater resources, depletion of groundwater potential zones, and ground subsidence in Kabul city area. 

Asadullah Farahmand
Asadullah Farahmand has a B.Sc. Bachelor's degree focused in Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology from Kabul Polytechnic University. From 2019 he works at the 
Department of Groundwater Resources (MEW) of the Ministry of Energy and Water in Kabul City. He is working in groundwater field for Kabul city and other districts in Afghanistan. In particular, on groundwater potential zones in Arghandab sub basin using remote sensing and AHP, ANP technique and on artificial groundwater recharge (site selection for managed aquifer recharge in Kabul city which includes spatial multi-criteria decision-making techniques integrated by remote sensing and GIS). In addition he is working on the assessment of the origin and source of interaction between surface waters and groundwaters of Kabul basin using hydrochemistry and environmental isotopes (deuterium, oxygen-18 and tritium).  

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