Groundwater Geographies: (In)visible flows, (un)traceable past, (un)certain future
Robert Luetkemeier (ISOE - Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung)
Linda Söller (Goethe Universitaet Frankfurt am Main)
David Kuhn (ISOE - Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung)
Dženeta Hodžić (ISOE - Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung)
Anne Jäger (Universität Koblenz Landau, Campus Landau)
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).
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. Designs of infrastructures for water supply and irrigation, permits for and legal regulation of groundwater abstraction, and river basin management plans are all examples where groundwater is governed in entities that are smaller than the social-ecological flows of concern. Accordingly, the dynamic behaviour of groundwater is a challenge in managing and governing water in environmentally just ways. Adding even more complexity, climate change and evolving societal water demand patterns bring in deep uncertainty about the future.
A geographical perspective on groundwater allows addressing (in)visibility and (un)certainty in its spatial, scalar and temporal dimensions. For example, Political Geography perspectives address how contentious groundwater use regimes and extractivist geographies have been produced and become reproduced (Emel et al., 1992). Cultural Geography may explore ways of envisioning groundwater as a resource, as ecosystem, as ecosystem service, as element of the underground, etc., in past, present, future. Political Ecology, ethnographic 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). 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.
Groundwater thus serves to integrate multiple perspectives – all of which potentially contribute to imaginaries of resource governance in the Anthropocene. Telecoupling research and Socio-Hydrology are two interdisciplinary lines of enquiry that engage with geographical questions of boundaries and scales, and that we will apply as lenses for geographical groundwater research in this session (see also York et al., 2019; Luetkemeier et al., 2021; Zurita et al., 2019). We call for papers that explore the spatial, scalar and temporal dimension of groundwater. We seek to bring multiple disciplinary lenses into engagement to tease out the potential geographical groundwater research has to envision planetary groundwater futures.
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