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KARSTRISK – Impacts of contamination on karstic groundwater ecosystems
Coordinator - Nelson Abrantes
Programme - PTDC/AAC-AMB/114781/2009
Execution dates - 2011-05-01 - 2014-11-30 (43 Months)
Funding Entity - FCT
Funding for CESAM - 72637 €
Total Funding - 91477 €
Proponent Institution - Universidade de Aveiro
Participating Institutions
Universidade de Lisboa
Instituto Superior Técnico - Centro de Geosistemas

In spite of the known relevance of groundwater as the largest reservoir of freshwater in the world, it has been increasingly obvious that this compartment should also be viewed as critical aquatic ecosystems. Although current directives, as Water Framework Directive (WFD), emphasize the need to achieve a good physical and chemical status for groundwater, its biodiversity is still neglected.

The subterranean karstic areas are one of the most unknown territories of national heritage, and also one of the most fantastic ecosystems full of endemic living creatures.

Considerable efforts amongst scientists in the second half of the 20th century have revealed the unexpectedly high diversity of living forms in groundwater and thousands of species have been described from these habitats. Aquifers support interstitial assemblages of bacteria and associated biofilms as well as specialized obligate groundwater fauna termed "stygofauna". Therefore, the full assessment of aquifer condition should include not only traditional sampling of physical and chemical variables but it also should consider the biota. The karstic areas occupy a great area in the Portuguese territory, in which are known more than 3000 caves. However, the actual knowledge about the biodiversity in groundwater in Portugal is almost unexplored. Karst aquifers are particularly exposed and impacted by several types of contaminants from point and diffuse sources of pollution, including agriculture, livestock, industries, wastewater effluents, etc. This way, the ecological sensitivity of karstic areas allied by a reduced scientific knowledge will lead to the irreversible degradation of these particular ecosystems.

Hence, the main challenge of the KARSTRISK will be to assess the impact of anthropogenic activities on the groundwater ecosystems, as a starting point to generate useful information for their protection. This project will provide important data on the groundwater biodiversity and on the anthropogenic impacts on groundwater habitats of one of the greatest aquifer in Iberian Peninsula - The Estremenho karst massif. As far as some stygofauna may be more sensitive than the surface aquatic fauna to chemical pollutants, groundwater quality criteria based on responses of surface water organisms may be insufficient to protect groundwater systems. Hence, this project will also provide valuable ecotoxicological information on the sensitiveness of groundwater living species to several anthropogenic pollutants, thus contributing to estimate the impacts of pollution on these particular ecosystems.


Members on this project

Nelson Abrantes