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SMART Aquifer Characterisation Programme (SAC)


The crystal clear water at Te Waikoropupu Springs, Tasman Region, bubbles up from the underlying aquifer(s).
Lloyd Homer, GNS Science.

The SMART Aquifer Characterisation (SAC) research programme aims to develop a suite of innovative methods for rapid and cost-effective characterisation of New Zealand’s groundwater systems. SMART is an acronym for the driving ideals of the SAC programme: Save Money and Reduce Time, but be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.

Funder: New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment

Programme Duration: 2011-2017

Programme LeaderStewart Cameron

Programme ManagerZara Rawlinson

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The overall aim of the research programme is to develop a suite of highly innovative methods for characterising New Zealand’s (NZ) groundwater systems. To ensure that the research undertaken is of immediate benefit for freshwater management within NZ, significant stakeholder consultation was undertaken at the onset of the programme to identify the most consequential knowledge gaps to target. As a result, SAC’s objective is to develop techniques able to improve knowledge of the following:

  • aquifer structure
  • aquifer hydraulic properties
  • fluxes of groundwater interchange with surface waters
  • water age

SAC also aims to have quantified uncertainty estimates for all information obtained and for this information to be publicly visible and accessible. Therefore, overarching research is being undertaken in parallel to communicate these issues effectively by means of 

  • uncertainty quantification
  • data synthesis and visualisation
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Research Programme

To address the above objectives, the programme is constructed of eight individual research aims:

See About for more details on the scope and design of the SAC research programme.

The research programme is led by the GNS Science Hydrogeology department and carried out in partnership with three European organisations:

  • Interfaculty Department for Geoinformatics, Paris-Lodron University Salzburg
  • Royal Haskoning DHV
  • Deltares

More info about our Partners and stakeholders.

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SAC Programme Outputs

List of publications (updated quarterly)

Groundwater-Surface Water Interaction Workshop

Smart Data Portal (currently being developed for harmonised data synthesis and visualisation)

The SMART Groundwater Portal (currently under construction) is a web-based knowledge inventory that aims to become a ‘one-stop shop’ to support the characterisation of New Zealand's groundwater aquifers. A framework has been developed for web-based geospatial data sharing, processing and 3D/4D visualisation of hydro(geo)logical datasets within New Zealand. The portal has keyword and map search functionality and links to many existing NZ databases.

Project Examples

Multi-disciplinary groundwater-surface water interaction study Satellite and airborne thermal infrared (TIR) sensing, Fibre Optic Distributed Temperature Sensing (FODTS) and novel age tracers were applied in a groundwater-surface water interaction study at three different areas within in the Upper Waikato River Catchment.

Informing vertical and lateral aquifer extent using helicopter electromagnetics (airborne EM)

The publicly released Glass Earth Gold Ltd. helicopter electromagnetic (HEM) data set was processed to obtain a 3D layered model of resistivity down to 175 m depth. A preliminary interpretation demonstrates that the HEM data can confirm the locations of known aquifers and can be used to quickly identify previously unmapped aquifers in the region.

One step closer to New Zealand rainfall recharge map

Satellite remote sensing data have been included in nation-wide estimates of evapotranspiration (ET), rainfall recharge to groundwater, and depth to the water table. Using the ET and the rainfall recharge estimates, a national first estimate of depth to water table (the Equilibrium Water Table) is the first attempt at delineating the water table at a national scale and has direct application in national studies that require the water table as an input parameter.

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SAC programme vision: “This project will identify, develop, apply, validate and optimise a suite of novel methods for accurate, rapid and cost-effective characterisation and mapping of New Zealand’s aquifer systems. By 2017, the outputs from the research programme will be used nationally by stakeholders such as regional authorities and will lead to better understanding of key aquifer systems. By 2020, national adoption of outputs from the research programme will have led to a demonstrable improvement in the management of groundwater and interconnected surface water systems.