Bild på Isaac Santos i labbet
Photo: Malin Arnesson

30 million grant to research on submarine groundwater discharge


Isaac Santos, professor in marine chemistry at the University of Gothenburg, receives over SEK 30 million from the prestigious Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation for his research about the environmental impact of polluted groundwater seeping into the oceans. Because they are difficult to study, accumulated pollutants through submarine groundwater discharge are overlooked in many environmental impact estimations in coastal zones.

Isaac Santos leads a research group at the University of Gothenburg that measures groundwater discharges and carbon emissions in coastal zones around the world. A global study published in 2021 showed that in many places, groundwater discharge was the largest source of nitrogen and phosphorus into the ocean.

“Groundwater is essentially invisible, and therefore difficult to study. That is why coastal water quality managers often overlook groundwater discharges to the oceans,” Isaac Santos said, when the study was published.

Many lakes and rivers are connected to aquifers. These connections have led to legislations at both national and European level to protect groundwater-dependent ecosystems. But aquifers are also connected to the ocean, and therefore also affects the seawater quality.

Studies all over Europe

“Our research project will show if the coastal groundwater, which started to be polluted decades ago and continuously seeps out into the ocean, is a driving factor for water quality along the coastal zones of Europe. Our research will evaluate the time scale of the processes, and project future pollution sources,” says Isaac Santos.

The grant of SEK 30,200,000 over five years from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation means that the researchers now can increase their efforts on submarine groundwater discharges into the ocean.

“Thanks to this grant, we can bring to light an invisible water problem. We will be able to recruit more researchers, expand from a local scale to all over the European continent, and increase collaboration with our colleagues at Stockholm University,” says Isaac Santos.

Co-applicants to this grant is Stefano Bonaglia, University of Gothenburg, Gia Destouni and Zahra Kalantari from Stockholm University.