Global expert to examine seawater threat to coastal aquifers

okke-batelaan-2Leading international hydrogeologist Okke Batelaan (pictured) will tap into Flinders University’s expertise in groundwater to undertake a number of research projects around the world, including Vietnam, Africa and South America.

As the University’s new Strategic Professor of Hydrogeology, Professor Batelaan says he will draw on the extensive knowledge of his colleagues in the School of the Environment to continue and initiate novel research, including studies to measure the impact of seawater intrusion on coastal aquifers.

Flying in from Belgium last month where he has spent the past two decades at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Professor Batelaan says he is keen to work with the University-based National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT), including joint NCGRT-Flinders Associate Professor Adrian Werner, to expand his research portfolio, with a focus on the impact of climate change on groundwater.

“One of the biggest threats to coastal aquifers is climate change because when sea levels rise, salt water seeps into these aquifers and makes them more saline,” Professor Batelaan, who is now based in the School of the Environment, said.

“With more than 85 per cent of Australia’s population living within 50 kilometres of the coast, groundwater is an important issue and Flinders has done a lot of work in this area so I’m hoping to use that knowledge to assist my research,” he said.

With expertise in hydrogeology, groundwater modelling and measuring aquifer consumption and recharge, Professor Batelaan will also work closely with the NCGRT to strengthen research linkages and higher degree research, including forging international research collaborations with his PhD students in Belgium.

Professor Andrew Millington, Dean of the School of the Environment, said Professor Batelaan’s appointment was a tremendous coup for the University.

“Professor Batelaan brings a wealth of knowledge to the University and his expertise will advance and enhance our research potential at the local, national and international level,” Professor Millington said.

“As a highly-respected and internationally-recognised expert in hydrogeology, Professor Batelaan’s appointment will take Flinders research to the world stage,” he said.

From his position within the School of the Environment, Professor Batelaan said he hoped to make groundwater research at Flinders “the best in the Southern Hemisphere”.

“Groundwater research is something that’s done very well at Flinders and with my background in groundwater I’m keen to expand our work in the area,” Professor Batelaan said.

“The presence of the NCGRT is an advantage for Flinders and I’d like to collaborate with researchers both at the centre and internationally to make groundwater research, learning and teaching at Flinders the best in the Southern Hemisphere.

“My goal is to work on enhancing the University’s reputation as a leader in the field and keep producing high-quality research outputs.”

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