Qatar and United Arab Emirates partner with Waterloo to study groundwater pollution in arid regions

Friday, February 17, 2017

Four researchers from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences are the co-recipients of a $672,000 USD grant from the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) to study the fate of groundwater pollutants in arid regions.

The Waterloo team, all members of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Water Institute, are part of a consortium including researchers from Qatar University, United Arab Emirates University, Utrecht University, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, and Université Libre de Bruxelles.

“Accidental spills of petroleum-derived hydrocarbons are a common source of contamination of groundwater worldwide,” says Research Assistant Professor Fereidoun Rezanezhad, who is leading the Waterloo portion of the project with Canada Excellence Research Chair Philippe Van Cappellen.

"Research on the transport and breakdown of these contaminants has mainly focused on groundwater in temperate climates. Our project, however, will look at what happens under the arid climate conditions encountered in coastal areas of the Arabian Peninsula."

Doha, Qatar skyline in the afternoon.

Groundwater remediation of strategic importance to Qatar

Over the next three years the project funded by QNRF will use new experimental column systems developed in the Ecohydrology Research Group at the University of Waterloo to determine how hydrocarbons behave in soils experiencing high evaporation and high salinities, that is, conditions that are typical for coastal aquifers in Qatar.

“The high salt content and dry conditions fundamentally change the movement and biodegradation of hydrocarbons,” explains to Razanezhad, a member of Waterloo’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. “By performing experiments in carefully controlled laboratory systems, we will be able to design more effective approaches to remediate contaminated soils and aquifers in arid and semi-arid regions.”

"This collaborative project is of strategic importance to Qatar, which has the world’s third largest oil and gas reserves, but very limited freshwater resources,” says Philippe Van Cappellen, who leads the Ecohydrology Research Group. “In addition, the results of the project will be relevant to the protection of groundwater in many other countries."

The partnership between the three universities will strengthen Waterloo’s international research and industry connections and its already strong international profile with water research and education. The project will also advance the goals of the Qatar National Research Fund which include supporting the development of a research culture by encouraging the local population to embrace research and development as a vocation.

Principal investigators include:

  • Riyadh I. Al-Raoush and Mohammed Ali Al-Muhannadi — Qatar University
  • Fereidoun Rezanezhad and Philippe Van Cappellen — University of Waterloo, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
  • Munjed Maraqa — United Arab Emirates University

Collaborators include:

  • James Barker — University of Waterloo, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and The Water Institute
  • David Rudolph — University of Waterloo, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and The Water Institute
  • Majid Hassanizadeh — Utrecht University
  • Martin Thullner — Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research
  • Pierre Regnier — Université Libre de Bruxelles

By Amy Geddes, The Water Institute

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