Nov. 1, 2017

Getting ‘Groundwater’ into cyberspace: A seminal textbook goes online

‘Groundwater’ was hot off the presses when Cathy Ryan started studying hydrogeology in the 1980s. Over the decades she’s turned regularly to the “the best-ever, most-loved groundwater textbook.” Now, with an innovative collaboration, instead of thumbing through the out-of-print textbook, Ryan and hydrogeologists around the world can click through this crucial resource online with GW2.0.

With the help of an Alberta OER grant and an army of volunteers, and with full support of the authors and publisher, Calgary-based Hydrogeologists Without Borders posted the text online, first as a PDF and later in HTML. The PDF version was downloaded more than 700 times in the first week.

Crowdsourced volunteers are busy translating the 1979 book by Canadian hydrogeologists Alan Freeze and John Cherry into Spanish, French, Portuguese and other languages. “Groundwater is really important particularly in many poor areas in the world, so we need to get it out there,” says Ryan, a professor in the Department of Geoscience. “Getting this excellent textbook translated so people can read it in their own language is a really big contribution internationally to hydrogeology.”

In many parts of the world, groundwater – the water that fills the spaces in soil, fractured rock and sand below the Earth’s surface – is being used faster than rain can replenish underground aquifers. And, as surface water – the water in river and lakes – becomes increasingly scarce, people are using groundwater for drinking water and irrigation. “Lots of areas of the world are set up to be in crisis situations from a water supply point of view,” says Ryan. “It’s not obvious because it’s not like a river that goes dry. So people in areas short of water tend to pump fossil groundwater, drawing down water tables significantly, with very little regulation.”

Groundwater is under stress here at home as well. For example, Alberta no longer issues new permits to take water from the South Saskatchewan River Basin, which means people and industries are turning to groundwater for their water supply. Furthermore, more people are moving to acreages that rely on groundwater. “We’re not really sure how many acreages you could have sustainably in one quarter section and not draw down the water table and cause groundwater shortages,” says Ryan.

The field of hydrogeology is growing along with the increasing stresses on global water supplies. That’s why one of the authors of ‘Groundwater,’ John Cherry, is rewriting the original text. “He’s working chapter by chapter and he’s going to more than double the number of chapters by talking with the ‘best scientists and most elegant teachers in the community’” says Ryan. “He’s a renowned hydrogeologist and everyone is very happy to collaborate with him on this project.”

Since Cherry and Freeze published their book nearly 40 years ago – with a preface that began: ‘We perceive a trend in the study and practice of groundwater hydrology’ – the field has “exploded.” The book has more than 5,600 Google Scholar citations and now anyone with an Internet connection can access “everybody’s go-to textbook.”

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Cathy Ryan, PhD, is a professor in UCalgary's Department of Geoscience. Her research interests include impacts on groundwater from agriculture, oil and gas and waste water. View Cathy's publications

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