Groundwater Geographies: (In)visible flows, (un)traceable past, (un)certain future

Lightning Talks
Donnerstag (21. September 2023), 18:15–19:45
HZ 15
Linda Söller (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt)
David Kuhn (ISOE)
Anne Jäger (Universität Koblenz)
Groundwater is characterised by invisibility and uncertainty across space, scale and time. We tease out the potential of interdisciplinary perspectives to envisioning planetary futures of the vital resource.

Abstract der Sitzung

Groundwater has become visible over the past years as a key resource for drinking water and food supply under threat. It can moreover be seen as key in adapting to the effects from climate change, e.g. by providing water to ecosystems and buffering periods of drought. Along this vein, groundwater has been declared as key to managing water in the Anthropocene (Falkenmark et al., 2019). The UN recognized this importance by dedicating its water theme in 2022 to “Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible” (UNESCO, 2022).

Groundwater is not only a key resource under threat. It is also symptomatic of how human-environment relations are undone, reconfigured and re-imagined in the Anthropocene (Adams, 2021). Temporal chronologies, spatial and scalar relations are moulded up in Anthropocene geographies (see Larson & Harrington, 2021). As an element of the subsurface that is in constant movement, groundwater eludes spatial boundaries and scales, and thus core categories of property rights. It flows across borders, leaks from infrastructures, nurtures surface water bodies and ecosystems, and is home to unique species. Climate change and evolving societal water demand patterns bring in additional uncertainty about the future.

A geographical perspective on groundwater allows addressing (in)visibility and (un)certainty in its spatial, scalar and temporal dimensions, as the lightening talks of this session illustrate. For example, Political Geography perspectives address how contentious groundwater use regimes and extractivist geographies have been produced and become reproduced (Emel et al., 1992). Political Ecology, STS and feminist approaches offer lenses to explore the role of “individuals and pumps”, as opposed to “command and control”, in groundwater governance (Zwarteveen et al., 2021). Ethnographic accounts of groundwater reveal how groundwater is made visible and manageable in practice. Political Ecology perspectives turn attention to the conflicts and injustices involved in groundwater use, abstraction and pollution. Physical Geography contributes to understanding the subsurface using models and point investigations to explore the threats of anthropogenic processes on groundwater flow and infiltration patterns, including in the future. Participatory approaches aim at embracing uncertainty by grounding modelling data in practitioners’ experiences and knowledge. The ideas of social-ecological telecoupling and socio-hydrology highlight how boundaries and scales in human-(ground)water relations extend well beyond the area of an aquifer (see also York et al., 2019; Luetkemeier et al., 2021; Zurita et al., 2019).

In this lightening session, we seek to tease out the potential of geographical groundwater research to envision groundwater futures in the Anthropocene. We explore how groundwater serves to integrate multiple perspectives – all of which potentially contribute to transformative imaginaries of managing and governing human-environment relations in the Anthropocene.