From the air, scientists map ‘fast paths’ for recharging California’s groundwater, and warn of problems ahead
On a balmy morning in April, Mike Lough, a geologist at the University of California, Riverside, sat in a windowless room in the UC Riverside Geology Department, a few feet away a machine that he had spent the last year researching. The machine was taking pictures of what Lough was calling high-current-density pathways in his university’s Berkeley County, which is located in the northern Sierra foothills — areas where groundwater flowing at high velocity carries groundwater recharge along with it.
“This guy has spent more time and money on this than I have,” said Lough, who is now a graduate student in the school’s Department of Geology. “He’s been very productive and I’m hoping with some new data, and some new techniques, we see more high-current-density pathways and more recharge in the environment.”
Since the 1960s, engineers, biologists and geologists have been mapping groundwater recharge patterns and warning of the dangers associated with too much or too little recharge. What Lough’s machine really provides is a new way to look at those recharge maps, and a potential model of how to recharge groundwater more efficiently, says Bob Schoch, a scientist for the UC Berkeley Center for Energy and Environmental Analysis in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences and the UC Berkeley Department of Chemistry.
“It is interesting that it is the same processes that are going on today,” Schoch said. “It is the same questions about what drives recharge. That is good, because the model we’re setting up is the same model that is applied to recharge today, at least by the best-run recharge districts in California.
“The new data that you get from his machine is a way of thinking differently about the problem, and that’s always a good thing in science,” Schoch said.
Lough’s machine, the “sister machine” to the new supercomputer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, contains three components: a digital image camera, a computer and a hydraulic pump. The camera takes pictures of the recharge pathways while a computer