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Insights Groundwater and the path to Net Zero

Dan joined us over five years ago as a Hydrogeologist in the Environment Practice. Today he is a Principal Hydrogeologist and Team Leader within the Infrastructure division's Contaminated Land and Hydrogeology team at Atkins, a member of the AtkinsRéalis Group. Here, he explains what a Hydrogeologist is and the importance of their role in our transition to Net-Zero.

image of Dan on a Hydrogeology site

What is a Hydrogeologist?

A Hydrogeologist is a scientist who specializes in the study of groundwater (hydro), how it infiltrates into the ground, how it flows through the subsurface and how it interacts with the soil and rock of the Earth (geology). A similar profession, a hydrologist, is someone who studies surface water.

Why is groundwater important?

Groundwater is an essential part of life on Earth. In the environment, it supports rivers, lakes and wetlands, especially through drier months when there is little direct input from rainfall. The flow of groundwater into rivers as seepage through the riverbed, known as baseflow, can be essential to the health of wildlife and plants that live in the water. In our economies, the uses for water are almost endless – how many ways do you use water each day?

Over 96% of the world's water is saline (salty), so it's important that the limited amount (4 %) of fresh water on Earth stays safe to drink and use for the many purposes we need it.

Groundwater makes up nearly 30% of all the world's available freshwater. Only 0.2% is found in lakes, streams or rivers, and 70% is bound up in snow and ice on mountains and polar regions. 

About 33% of tap water in England and Wales comes from underground sources (aquifers). In Northern Ireland and Scotland, this figure is 6% and 3%, respectively. The rest comes from reservoirs, lakes, and rivers. 

As rivers and lakes tend to be supported by groundwater, it is not exaggerating to say that almost all the water we use for agriculture, industry, and drinking water is, or was, groundwater at some point in the water cycle. Therefore, protecting this vital source is critical to the future of our water supply.

What is the role of a Hydrogeologist? 

Hydrogeologists apply their specialist knowledge to a wide variety of scenarios. They might:

•Design and construct water wells for drinking water supply, irrigation schemes, industrial processes and other purposes
•Design construction dewatering schemes for major infrastructure schemes
•Assess the sustainability of existing and new water abstractions or discharges to water – for example, so that they do not adversely affect the environment by depleting natural baseflows to rivers and or polluting important wetland ecosystems
•Investigate the quality of groundwater and surface water and design schemes to clean up pollution where needed
•Identify how we can harness geothermal energy through groundwater-sourced heating and cooling systems.

How Atkins is protecting groundwater for the future

Hydrogeologists in our Water Management Consultancy team operate at the interface between people and the water environment in the Water & Environment sector. They have created new tools and approaches that revolutionize how we plan for resilient and sustainable water management for the future.

Addressing our industrial legacy, our Contaminated Land and Hydrogeology team is engaged at the forefront of major infrastructure projects, protecting the environment, human health and water resources while enabling beneficial (re)use of land to meet society's needs now and in the future.

Together, our teams investigate, assess and remediate water resources, removing chemical and physical constraints to some of the biggest challenges facing the world today, including sustainable water supply, food and energy production; environmental protection; and coping with climate change. 

Using our blend of digital innovation and scientific expertise, including geological, hydrogeological, waste, chemistry and broad environmental skills, we maintain an award-winning reputation for adaptive, applied and integrated mitigation. 

We work collaboratively across Atkins and AtkinsRéalis businesses with a wide range of people, from other scientists and engineers; to agronomists, sociologists, economists, policymakers, regulators and planners.

We turn constraint into opportunity, influencing design, minimizing engineering requirements while embedding innovation and sustainability at the earliest project stages.

Groundwater as a renewable energy source

Did you know groundwater can be used as a low-carbon heating and cooling source in many UK towns and cities? 
AtkinsRéalis has pledged to focus on the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals between 2020 and 2025 to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all in line with Goal-7, "Affordable and Clean Energy."

Our Hydrogeologists are driving change, identifying whether groundwater can be pumped from the aquifers beneath current and future developments to heat our homes and businesses (by passing through a heat exchanger to extract the thermal energy). These systems, known as groundwater source heat pumps (GSHP), can also be used for cooling during the summer months when the ground temperature is lower than the surface air temperature. 

Join us on our journey to Net Zero and apply for a job in hydrogeology

Hydrogeologists get to be at the forefront of complex projects, working outside and in an office. We are scientific engineers who see our passion for the natural environment applied to real-world problems, and therefore, we develop real-world solutions.

We are committed to achieving our target of Net Zero emissions by partnering with clients to effect genuine change across every aspect of our projects, pioneering new technologies and ways of working. Therefore, earlier this year, we launched Engineering Net Zero, a series of reports and goals providing solutions for prioritizing clean and affordable energy solutions and developing sustainable infrastructure, transport and cities. However, we are all still learning, developing and innovating, and we are looking for fresh new talent in all roles, from engineering internships to project management, to help us shape the future sustainably.
It is an exciting time to be starting a career in hydrogeology, and there is a huge opportunity to build a greener, safer and more resilient future for our planet and its people. Are you going to seize it?

Discover more and search our live Water Jobs .