PhD student Archita Bhattacharyya is undertaking a project focused on exploring the ecosystem of microorganisms in groundwater of England.
In south England and the Midlands, about 70 per cent of drinking water is sourced from groundwater. This groundwater is home to a wide variety of microscopic organisms that have interactive relationships with the surrounding abiotic and biotic environments, together constituting the groundwater microbial ecosystem. These microbes provide useful services, including pathogenic microbe inactivation and pollutant biodegradation: essentially, the microbes help maintain the quality of the groundwater we consume.
With increasing scientific understanding of groundwater ecosystem services, the water supply companies and Government agencies that are responsible for environmental and public health are paying more attention and investigating the best ways to protect undisturbed groundwater ecosystems. However, this can be difficult because the groundwater and microorganisms are out of sight, making it very tricky to study them. There is also no clear knowledge about what an undisturbed baseline microbial ecosystem should look like or how it can be protected.
This problem is the focus of my PhD, which I am working on at the BGS’s office in Wallingford, Oxfordshire. For fieldwork, I need to travel all over the Midlands to collect microbial samples from groundwater, which is why I recently travelled to Nottinghamshire and buddied up with Ankita Bhattacharya, another BUFI student who is based at BGS’s headquarters in Keyworth.
Our fieldwork was carried out at the groundwater pumping stations of Severn Trent Water, where raw groundwater is pumped before it is sent to the supply chain. We collected samples to determine environmental DNA (eDNA), nutrients and the age of the groundwater and we recorded different physiochemical parameters like pH, conductivity, dissolved oxygen and groundwater temperature in as many as 11 locations in and around Nottingham.
Having a field buddy made the otherwise exhausting fieldwork experience truly enjoyable for both of us. We got a chance to explore Nottinghamshire in a different way and have seen huge farmlands, chaotic animal farms, dense forests, peaceful villages, quiet lanes and busy roads. We drove on roads with both smooth concrete and no concrete at all, across landscapes with gentle, sloping floodplains and up steep hill roads with hairpin bends, all of which made the experience memorable.
The eDNA we collected will be sequenced to identify the different microbial species present in groundwater. I will then compare the ecosystem collected from the groundwaters of different regions to find variations in undisturbed ecosystems. As part of my project, I will also address the reasons for microbial ecosystem variations and take samples for environmental variables through sampling for chemical analysis of dissolved organic matter, dissolved nitrogen and dissolved carbon.
Both of Archita and Ankita are studying under the Envision doctoral training programme.
About the authors
Archita Bhattacharyya (Wallingford) and Ankita Bhattacharya (Keyworth) are both BUFI PhD students studying at BGS.