Swiss Geoscience Meeting 2019 – ‘Geoscience goes Underground’

The Swiss Academy of Sciences (SCNAT) is an active network of researchers in a wide array of scientific and science+policy platforms, who organize activities including workshops, conferences, and symposia. Within the SCNAT geology platform, the 17th Swiss Geoscience Meeting (SGM) in Fribourg was held in November 2019. Hundreds of scientists from Switzerland and abroad attend the meeting every year to share research on topics such as structural geology, geothermal energy, soils, remote sensing, hydro(geo)logy, humans and geography, and environmental policy.

Robin Weatherl (Early Stage Researcher 4) is based at EAWAG (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Sciences and Technology) in Zürich and enrolled at the University of Neuchâtel. She had the opportunity to take part in the 2-day meeting and give a presentation within the ‘hydrology, limnology, and hydrogeology’ session. The session included presentations and posters on the impact of climate change for Alpine groundwater, eco-hydrological modeling of the ‘water tower of Europe’, temperature tracing in surface water bodies, and exploring the effects of novel irrigation technologies on groundwater recharge. Robin’s presentation shared her recent work on comparing methods to characterize surface runoff in human environments, and the relationship between surface runoff and groundwater recharge.

Figure 1. Example slide from Robin’s presentation, highlighting the definition and dynamics of surface runoff

Her research focuses on the theme of modified landscapes for agricultural and urban development that alter the local water cycle (figure 2). The jigsaw puzzle of crop types, drainage infrastructure, compacted soils, and impermeable surfaces creates complex modifications in watershed responses to storm events (Barnes et al., 2018; Eshtawi et al., 2016). Changes in the ratio of infiltrating water to runoff water after storm events, and spatio-temporal changes in the contributing area of a catchment to a runoff event, are known to be major consequences of such land development. In addition, surface runoff is an active carrier of environmental pollutants: pesticides, pharmaceuticals, NAPLs, and other products are readily dispersed into water bodies with increases in surface runoff. It becomes clear that these water balance changes are consequential to both the availability of water resources as well as water quality (Burri et al., 2019). Due to the complex dynamics of runoff generation in these areas, she is applying a diversity of methods in an attempt to characterize them: comparing the use of chemical and isotopic tracers, data from river gauges, or data from rainfall measurements.

Figure 2. Extreme changes in landscape for agricultural, urban, and industrial development are of great consequence to local water cycles. Image by Max Ramgraber (Early stage researcher 5)

Overall, discussion on water cycle dynamics in the human environment was a common topic at SGM 2019 and in the hydrology, limnology, and hydrogeology session in particular. This offered a useful platform for Robin to interact with both hydrologists and hydrogeologists on the topic – a perfect combination of perspectives for discussing the surface water and groundwater interactions that are very relevant to her current research questions. In addition to presenting and receiving feedback on her own research of groundwater dynamics, she was able to hear what other scientists are doing in the field of water science. This was great way to expand knowledge in the field, and to have a better perception on the direction that the research is taking.

To see more information on the Swiss Geoscience Meeting in Fribourg, please visit



Barnes, M.L., Welty, C., Miller, A.J., 2018. Impacts of Development Pattern on Urban Groundwater Flow Regime. Water Resour. Res. 1–15.

Burri, N.M., Weatherl, R., Moeck, C., Schirmer, M., 2019. A review of threats to groundwater quality in the anthropocene. Sci. Total Environ. 684, 136–154.

Eshtawi, T., Evers, M., Tischbein, B., 2016. Quantifying the impact of urban area expansion on groundwater recharge and surface runoff. Hydrol. Sci. J. 61, 826–843.


Low flow sampling

Our ESR Olha Nikolenko is focused on the study of the dynamics of GHGs in groundwater. During her field investigations Olha applied low flow sampling technique in order to collect representative groundwater samples from the specific depths minimizing the mixing between different water layers. The collected samples were analyzed for a range of hydrochemical parameters and isotopes (15N, 18O, 11B, 13C, 34S and 3H). In addition, sampled groundwater was used to perform laboratory incubation experiments using NO3- and NH4+ compounds labelled with heavy 15N isotope to quantify the rates of denitrification and nitrification processes.

Collection of groundwater samples

Such approach can help to obtain better insight into the extent of oxic and anoxic zones, occurrence of biochemical processes along the vertical profile of the aquifer and accumulation of GHGs in different hydrogeochemical conditions.

Field set-up for low flow sampling procedure

ESR 13 at the International Phosphorus Workshop 9 (IPW9) – Putting phosphorus first? How to address current and future challenges

The International Phosphorus Workshop is a unique event that brings together experts working on phosphorus in terrestrial and aquatic systems. The workshop is organized every three years in a different location; the first IPW was carried out in Wexford, Ireland, in 1995. This year the event took place at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, from 8th to 12th of July and had an additional relevance since it is the 350th anniversary of the discovery of phosphorus. Our fellow Domiziana Cristini (ESR13) is currently working on stable isotopes of phosphate in freshwater ecosystems, hence the IPW9 was a great opportunity to discuss her project. She presented a poster in the session dedicated to theme 5 (Environmental phosphorus problems).

1. Main campus of ETH Zurich, Switzerland

The workshop arose from the awareness that phosphorus (P) is a key element to all organisms and that an inappropriate use of it causes environmental problems. P is largely applied as fertilizer all over the world and its excess in soils results in dissipation into freshwater ecosystems. The enrichment of P in water bodies is termed eutrophication and has diverse negative consequences like the deterioration of water quality, toxic algal blooms, anoxia (Sondergaard & Jeppesen, 2007). Furthermore, the P surplus that remains in soil may threaten terrestrial biodiversity (Lambers et al., 2013).

2. Booklet of the IPW9 programme

The IPW9 was attended by experts from different fields: natural, engineering and social science, to offer a deeper view on all the aspects that concern P. The activities took place in plenary and parallel oral presentations, poster sessions, interactive workshops and excursions. During these activities five themes were investigated: 1. Phosphorus scarcity, 2. Optimizing regional and national phosphorus cycles, 3. Sourcing phosphorus fertilizers, 4. Efficient phosphorus use in agroecosystems, 5. Environmental phosphorus problems. The oral and poster presentations gave an insight on the advancements in P knowledge and technology, as well as on the concepts that drove the P-related research so far. On the other hand, the interactive workshops offered the possibility to discuss future research address and actions to solve P-derived problems.

3. ESR13 and her poster


Lambers, H., Ahmedi, I., Berkowitz, O., Dunne, C., Finnegan, P.M., Hardy, G.E.St J., Jost, R., Laliberté, E., Pearse, S.J., Teste, F.P., 2013. Phosphorus nutrition of phosphorus-sensitive Australian native plants: threats to plant communities in a global biodiversity hotspot. Conserv Physiol 1: (1).

Sondergaard M., Jeppesen E., 2007. Anthropogenic impacts on lake and stream ecosystems, and approaches to restoration. J. Appl. Ecol. 44: 1089-1094.