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Daniela Ducci (Italy) – Source of Experience

Hydrogeological research is very exciting, but we all have to keep in mind that a drop of drinking water for a child in disadvantaged countries with scarcity of water is more valuable than 100 papers published in prestigious journals…”

December 2018: We are delighted that Daniela Ducci agreed to contribute. As well as being professor at the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering (DICEA) of the “Federico II” University of Naples, she is one of IAH’s many volunteer “champions”, devoting time to the Italian National Chapter’s committee, which includes organising courses and other events.

Tell us a little about yourself….
I had chosen to focus on hydrogeology by the end of my studies. Initially studying Geology at the University of Naples (Italy) I then went on in 1982 to obtain my master degree discussing a thesis in Landslide susceptibility and Hydrogeology. Afterwards, I applied for a grant from the Spanish government to study hydrogeology at UPC (Universidad Politécnica de Cataluña). I was a student of the XVII Curso de Hidrologìa Subterrànea of the International Center in Groundwater Hydrology (CIHS), finishing with a study on aquifers nitrate contamination. I cannot forget the stunning classes of hydrogeochemistry given by prof. Custodio! I saw him last year in Granada and it was very emotional… [note: Professor Custodio was an IAH Honorary Member, thanks to his renowned career and support to so many, as well as his role as IAH Past President]

In 1985, I came back to UPC for my postgraduate studies about modelling (Advisors: J. Carrera and E. Custodio), taking advantage of Italian Government issued grants.

In 1986, I started working full time at the Engineering Faculty of the University of Naples and I begin my scientific activity, expressly devoted to Applied Geology and Hydrogeology. I was involved in several research projects and in teaching activities on Engineering Geology, Environment and Hydrogeology, with special focus on problems related to the assessment of aquifers vulnerability and risk to contamination. Successively, as Assistant Professor I developed my research activity on Hydrogeology, with special focus on problems related to GIS application to hydrogeological studies. After a period as associate Professor, in 2011, I became Full Professor at the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering (DICEA) of the “Federico II” University of Naples. This is my present position and I carry out teaching activity and research and analysis in the fields of Research on Engineering Geology, Environment and Hydrogeology, with special focus on problems related to the protection, management and planning of groundwater resources, also in the framework of the European legislation on groundwater.

Tell us about your IAH experiences…
I joined IAH in 1983, at the end of my Course on Groundwater Hydrology at CIHS, and initially I was in the Spanish Chapter. After moving, I changed to the Italian Chapter. For many years I under-exploited the advantages that IAH membership can bring. I read carefully the Hydrogeology Journal and participated in Italian meetings regularly, but without what you might say was a personal involvement. This changed in 2011, with some Italian colleagues, when we decided to give a new impulse to the Italian Hydrogeology. In 2012, I was elected in the Italian National Chapter Committee and I was appointed as Secretary. In 2017, I was re-elected and appointed as Chair of the Italian Chapter.

The Chapter has devoted significant efforts in increasing the number of Italian IAH members, reaching almost 200 members in 2018, this figure having increased from 73 in 2011.

Since 2012, in Niagara Falls, I have attended, alongside the majority of the Italian Committee, all the IAH congresses over the world and other IAH meetings in Europe. This year 16 people from Italy attended Korea, and last year 35 people attended Croatia, all presenting very interesting work. I am very proud of this!

Biennially we organize a National Italian Meeting on Hydrogeology, named FLOWPATH; the last was in 2017 in Cagliari (Sardinia) and the next will be in 2019 in Milan, June 12-14 (see end of article for link). Generally, the participants are about 100-120, and not only from Italy. During this meeting we present the Zuppi award for the best PhD thesis in hydrogeology (dedicated to the memory of Professor Gian Maria Zuppi). The fees are very low for students and young researchers – this is because IAH Italy is especially keen to involve younger and early career members. For this reason, we also organize courses about different hydrogeological topics (models, wells construction, aquifers recharge, etc.)

My belief is that IAH is a family that works to enhance its members’ knowledge and development overall, enabling them to share experiences and novel science – and I try to be a voice from the Italian people to IAH overall. And for me, IAH Italy is my “close” family, where I have to take care of everyone, but especially young people.

What have been the biggest turning points over your career?
In 1990, I attended a Course on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) taken by the professors of the International Institute for Aerospace Survey and Earth Sciences (ITC – NL). There, I really saw the great potential of the use of GIS in hydrogeology, not only for mapping, but also for the protection and management of groundwater resources, with special consideration of aquifer vulnerability and risk assessment. I think that the use of maps for aquifer vulnerability and risk to groundwater contamination is a basic tool for the protection and management of groundwater resources, especially at regional scale, in densely populated and intensely cultivated areas. Studies in this field have been aimed at the development of methodologies able to assess the vulnerability and risk of aquifers to contamination. In particular, I developed, with some colleagues, innovative procedures based on geo-statistical tools and, in more recent time, on hydrostratigraphy of aquifers, drawn up by 3d modelling techniques, applied on real cases. Other studies have focused on the estimation of the pollution risk of porous aquifers to nitrate and to the longstanding problem of the definition of the intrinsic vulnerability in groundwater-protection assessment using the GIS.

I participated in many researches in this field supported by my University, the Education Ministry and the Italian National Research Council (CNR – Consiglio Nazionale delle ricerche).
Any other research areas in which you are involved?

At present, my scientific activity covers a wide variety of hydrogeology topics and focuses mainly on studies about evaluation of groundwater-resources and impact of climate change and hydrogeochemical characterization and geochemical background levels in groundwater.

In relation to the first topic, the effects of climate change variations on groundwater resources has been observed in Southern Italy. In my region, water quantities, calculated in a GIS environment, show a mean decrease of 30% of average recharge, within the climate scenario at the end of the last century. The most severely affected zones are the carbonate aquifers, with the springs discharges significantly reduced. Recently, a study, using a wide set of groundwater data, concerning piezometric and spring flow yield time series, shows the relevance of the overlapped effect of water demand and climate change, which is summarized by the widespread dramatic lowering of groundwater availability.

Finally, I tested in southern Italy with colleagues from ISPRA (Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research) a new approach to evaluate groundwater-resources at nationwide scale and their variability throughout the time. It is proposed that the approach, also based on big data available online, will be developed into an innovative web site, aimed at being of help to hydrogeologists and environmental technicians.

In relation to the second topic, the research activities concentrated on hydrogeochemistry deals with aquifers in densely populated, agricultural, and industrialized areas, extremely sensitive to contamination. The study method starts from the conceptual models of these study areas, based on the analysis of the spatial distribution of the chemical species, highlighting the dependence on the lithology of the aquifers and on the anthropogenic influence. To better discriminate between contaminated aquifers and aquifers with baseline water quality, in some cases, I estimated, in the framework of the European WFD/GWD, the Natural Background Levels (NBL) of selected species using statistical approaches. In particular, I proposed, with Portuguese and Italian colleagues, a novel method, based on the Indicator kriging analysis to identify, through probability maps of the potential contaminants, areas potentially polluted within groundwater bodies, facilitating the management of groundwater quality status.

What are your concerns now or for the future, relating to groundwater/hydrogeology?
During my studies, I have observed groundwater contamination in relationhip to land use (e.g. nitrate contamination), in terms of agricultural and/or urban and peri-urban development, especially in coastal areas where development can be very dynamic. It demonstrates the strong interconnection between human activities and groundwater. Local communities have to improve their role, understanding the status of their groundwater resources and protecting them, and applying agricultural practices more appropriate for the protection of their enviroments… I have trust in the new hydrogeological approach, named “socio-hydrogeology”, which promotes society’s participation and cooperation in groundwater conservation and contamination reduction.

Your future plans? Challenges?
I see my life ahead spending more with my family and close to nature. But also… when I retire from my University, also going to rural communities that still do not have safe access to adequate and reliable supplies of safe water. There, I will use my hydrogeological knowledge for community water supplies designing and constructing wells, and monitoring groundwater quality and quantity. Perhaps within the framework of IAH’s Burdon Groundwater Network for International Development.

Any other comments?
Hydrogeological research is very exciting, but we all have to keep in mind that a drop of drinking water for a child in disadvantaged countries with scarcity of water is more valuable than 100 papers published in prestigious journals…

Last – but not least…
In Italian, HYDROGEOLOGY is a female word!

Daniela Ducci