People often think of surface water (the water of rivers and lakes) as the world’s main source of fresh water. However, the most available and abundant source of fresh water is groundwater—the water beneath the Earth’s surface, which supplies wells and springs.
Canada Excellence Research Chair in Ecohydrology Philippe Van Cappellen is increasing our understanding of how groundwater and surface waters interact, and how these interactions affect the health of aquatic ecosystems and, ultimately, the well-being of human populations.
In particular, Van Cappellen focuses on the movement of nutrients and toxic metals between groundwater and surface water. Combining laboratory and field experiments with mathematical modelling, he is able to define the accompanying biogeochemical changes and their impacts on water quality and ecosystem health.
With his research team at Waterloo, Van Cappellen is using experimental data and theoretical modelling to develop environmental simulation tools that can be applied to river catchments around the world. These models will ultimately be capable of predicting how hydrological systems, which are crucial to our social and economic well-being, respond to natural and human-induced changes.
Van Cappellen’s research is revolutionizing global strategies for managing water resources by revealing the range of effects that groundwater withdrawal, land use and climate change have on the chemical and ecological status of groundwater and surface water. It also allows policy-makers and stakeholders to make responsible decisions about water resource management that will balance the needs of human and ecosystem health.