Dirt Plays Important Part In Making Clean Water
February 18, 2013

Dirt Plays Important Part In Making Clean Water

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Rivers, lakes, and oceans may play a large role in the water cycle, but many people don´t realize that one of the biggest factors in keeping water clean lies just below their feet.

According to Henry Lin, a professor of hydropedology and soil hydrology at Penn State, the ground plays an important role in keeping the environment clean by acting as a natural water filter and purifier.

In his presentation to the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Boston on Sunday, Lin said that understanding how the Earth´s surface plays a fundamental part of the ecosystem can translate into better groundwater management strategies and a better conservation policy.

"We look at nature and we see all the beauty and all the prosperity around us," said Lin, "But most people don't know or tend to forget that the key to sustainability is right underground."

In his presentation, Lin noted that the Earth´s surface, from the top of a forest canopy to the various layers of underground material, soaks up and purifies water by removing excess nutrients, heavy metals and other contaminants from the water supply. He added, that the ground can also store freshwater after heavy precipitation.

According to Lin, approximately 60 percent of world's annual precipitation is stored in the ground.

"In fact, there is more water under the ground than there is in the so-called 'blue waters,' such as lakes and rivers," he said.

People use large amounts of water for drinking and to irrigate agricultural fields on both large and small scales. Because of its vital role in everyday life, Lin said he hopes to foster a "blue revolution" that could lead to increased water security with systems that deliver a clean, safe water supply in locations around the globe; just as a worldwide green revolution increased awareness about food security and world hunger.

"Without water there is no life," Lin said. "Without groundwater, there is no clean water."

He said the current system is inadequate and threatened by poor land management practices that do not take into account how ground water is affected by construction, underground storage and agricultural operations.

Lin suggested that officials need to understand how the ground and plants in an area can affect the cleanliness and availability of water. He warned that mismanaged land development can lead to flooding or impure drinking water supplies.

Despite the potentially dire consequences, government managers and planners might not act responsibly unless the general public becomes educated on groundwater management issues, Lin warned.

"In a lot of cases, for the general public and even people from government agencies and funding agencies, it's out of sight, out of mind," Lin said. "But, beneath the surface lies the foundation of our sustainability."

According to his faculty website, Lin devotes about 70 percent of his academic energies to researching topics like hydrology, soil physics, ecosystem science, and environmental modeling. He recently collaborated with researchers from the Institute of Soil Science, in Nanjing, China on the studying the effects of flooding on different types of paddy soils.