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IAEA Helps Brazil Strengthen Isotope Monitoring of Precipitation

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The CPRM team after the set-up of the Recife Isotope monitoring station. This rainfall totalizer will be used to collect samples, whose isotopic signature will provide valuable additional data for the Global Network of Isotopes in Precipitation (GNIP). (Photo: R. Kirchheim/CPRM)

Since the beginning of this year, the IAEA has been working with the Brazilian Geological Survey (CPRM) and the Brazilian National Water Agency (ANA) to help strengthen the country’s network to observe the isotopic composition of precipitation and use this data to determine the availability of fresh water across the country. Five stations equipped with specifically-suited rain samplers have already been set-up across Brazil and five more will be installed by the end of 2018. The first rain samples have been collected and delivered for isotope analysis to the IAEA hydrology laboratory in Vienna this month.  

Interpreting changes in isotope ratios in precipitation allows scientists to determine changes in rainfall patterns and learn where, when and how groundwater is recharged. Rainfall patterns and their relationship with groundwater recharge is essential for understanding the impact of climate change on water availability (see Isotope hydrology).

“In such a diverse and huge country like Brazil, water is unevenly distributed. Most of the electricity is produced from hydroelectric power. Brazil’s agriculture is heavily dependent on water availability,” said Roberto Kirchheim, a hydrogeologist with CPRM.

On a global level, strengthening a central network for precipitation monitoring in Brazil will enable scientists to better assess the grand scheme of air masses’ movements and improve interpretation of past climate records, which can help them predict future events linked to climate change. Brazil - like many other countries in the region - has lately been experiencing unusual extreme weather conditions, such as floods and droughts.

The IAEA has been coordinating the GNIP since 1960. The data available through this unique network is used by researchers and practitioners in hydrological, climatological and environmental studies. (Illustration: IAEA)

“Having ten monitoring stations across Brazil, covering a large part of the Latin American region, will improve the spatial coverage available to scientists locally and globally. This information will help countries in the region improve their use of isotopes in water resources assessment,” said IAEA isotope hydrologist Lucía Ortega.

CPRM scientists and projects leaders have been trained to handle and interpret precipitation isotope data at the IAEA Hydrology Laboratory in Vienna. The initiative is a pilot project, which will be expended to other countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region over the next five years.

How nuclear science and technology help us improve water resources management will be a topic discussed at the IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Science and Technology. Watch the event live on 28-30 November 2018. Have a look at the full programme here.

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