UCD Earth Institute

    Better understand today's world.
    Inform solutions for tomorrow.


Water is essential for life on earth. All living creatures depend on water, from the drinking water needed by every person to the water taken in by the roots of plants and transpired through its leaves.

For centuries, clean and plentiful water has provided the foundation for thriving communities. However, an increasing global population means more demand for agriculture, greater use of water for irrigation and more water pollution.

As some countries become more affluent, a larger number of people are living water-intensive lifestyles. Exacerbated by climate change, it is expected that fresh water will become increasingly scarce in the future.

Engineers and Geologists at UCD Earth Institute are looking at solutions to effectively improve water quality, monitor surface and groundwater supplies as well as developing sustainable river rehabilitation methods.

Our Biologists are working on environmentally sensitive management of freshwater and marine fisheries and studying the impacts of economic activities and climate change on marine ecosystems.

Water can carry pollution, both in rivers and lakes and underground. Understanding and managing such pathways is essential to improving the quality of our environment.

Key words: Water Quality, Purifying Water, Measuring Quality, Distribution of Pollutants, Surface Water Flow, Ground Water, Water Pollution, Fisheries, Freshwater, Marine Ecosystems.

Earth Institute academics working in this area:


Research impacts

Did you every hear someone say “everything is connected” and find yourself nodding wisely because it seems to make sense? Well – you were right! And in so many ways water is this connection.

When water evaporates from the oceans and falls, perhaps thousands of kilometers away, as rain and snow to replenish our rivers and recharge our groundwaters, this river of water in the atmosphere connects us with the oceans and sometimes with the Artic ice sheets.

What happens in these oceans or on these ice sheets can change our water supplies. When forests are chopped down, soils are exposed to erosion by rain and rivers impacted by more floods and sediment.

When someone pollutes a river or lake, that pollution is carried on downstream to cause harm elsewhere, one group of people are harmed by another group’s actions. A similar logic applies to related global issues, such as climate change, water poverty and fairness, health and sanitation, agriculture and food.

Water is the connection and we are all involved. In the UCD Earth Institute we study these connections and their impacts. We try to understand the range of possibilities they offer and the range of dangers they threaten – to help plot a path to a fairer and sustainable future. Modelling is our tool. It helps us make sense of the past and use it to predict and plan for the future.

Did you ever wonder how about an inevitable “waste” is used for wastewater treatment? When raw water has been purified to produce drinking water, a waste product is left behind: alum sludge.

This sludge looks like dark mud and is transported every day from water treatment plants to landfills. Its disposal, amidst decreasing available landfill space, coupled with escalating costs and public concerns remains an environmental challenge.
Dr Yaqian Zhao at UCD Earth Institute was the first to see potential in this waste product and has successfully developed novel wetlands system using alum sludge as substrate and growing medium for wetland plants. These wetlands are low cost and have proven to be very effective at cleaning middle to high strength wastewater.

This new green technology is low cost and environmentally friendly creating an alternative re-use option for alum sludge (as opposed to landfilling it) while at the same time, enhancing wastewater treatment with high rates of organics and phosphorus (P) removal. The system can be applied successfully to treat wastewaters in individual houses, farms or scattered settlements.