Preserving Water Resources for More People

Ways and means to better protect and manage the world´s scarce freshwater resources will be one focus of the 40th International Symposium on Isotope Hydrology and Integrated Water Resources Management, to be held 19-23 May at the IAEA in Vienna.

Latest figures show more than 1.2 billion people lack access to safe water. One means of finding and protecting sustainable water supplies is through the use of isotope hydrology. Isotopes -- forms of chemical elements such as carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen -- can be used to trace the movements of underground water, to detect water loss from irrigation systems, and to monitor for signs of pollution.

At the weeklong symposium, around 300 of the world's leading water scientists and experts in isotope hydrology are reviewing global research, field projects, and advances in the field. It is also an opportunity to identify research and development needs, says Pradeep Aggarwal, who heads the IAEA's Isotope Hydrology Section.

A key benefit of isotope hydrology is its cost and time advantages. Traditional tools of monitoring water cycles are painstakingly slow and expensive, as they must be carried out over a long period. Isotopes provide the same understanding of the water system with minimal time and expense, he said.

The symposium serves to foster closer interaction between isotope professionals and the hydrological community at large, Mr Aggarwal said. It is a chance to speak each other´s language and look at how isotope hydrology can be applied more broadly to help countries solve critical water problems.

The symposium will highlight the integral role of isotopes in water management, including in the following areas:

  • Water cycle processes in the atmosphere and hydrosphere;
  • Age dating of young groundwater;
  • Field applications of isotopes in groundwater or surface water and;
  • Water, carbon and nutrient cycling processes at the land-ocean-atmosphere interface.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first IAEA water resources symposium. Meeting co-sponsors are the International Association of Hydrological Sciences and the International Association of Hydrogeologists.

The IAEA has long served as a catalyst for sustainable water development. Each year, nearly US $3 million is invested in the water resources programme. In addition, the Agency's technical assistance programme provides about US $6 million per year for 80 projects in 54 countries to improve water management using isotope hydrology and, in the process, hundreds of young scientists have been trained to help their countries apply the tools where and how they are most needed.

More information about the Symposium is available here.

Last update: 11 November 2014