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Carbonate (karst) terrains comprise one third of the land area of Europe. Karst aquifers hold important groundwater resources supplying up to 50% of drinking water in some countries. The European COST Action 620 (Cooperation in Science and Technology), including delegates from 16 countries, worked from 1997 to 2002 to develop an approach to vulnerability and risk mapping, which takes into consideration the particular characteristics of carbonate (karst) aquifers, but which can, however, also be used for other aquifer types. The project was given impetus by the European Water Framework Directive, which is intended to provide a common framework for water resource policy and management.

The approach comprises methods of intrinsic and specific vulnerability mapping, hazard and risk mapping, and validation. Vulnerability maps can be produced both for resource and source protection. The proposed method is based on an origin-pathway-target model. The origin is the point of release of a potential contaminant, mostly the land surface. The target may be the groundwater table (resource) or a spring/well (source). The pathway comprises all compartments between the origin and the target. Intrinsic vulnerability only takes into account the hydrogeological properties of the system, while specific vulnerability additionally considers the specific interactions with particular contaminants. Hazards are defined as potential sources of groundwater contamination resulting from human activities, and overlaying vulnerability and hazard maps creates risk maps. Different techniques to validating vulnerability maps are proposed, comprising tracer tests, hydrograph and chemograph analyses, and modelling. The new approach was tested in 11 European test sites.

Additional information

Authors: ZWAHLEN F, European Commission, DG Research, Brussels (BE)
Bibliographic Reference: EUR 20912 EN (2004), 297 pp. Euro: 45
Availability: EUR-OP reference: KI-NA-20912-EN-C Available from EUR-OP sales agents URL:
ISBN: ISBN: 92-894-6416-X
Record Number: 200417424 / Last updated on: 2004-03-09
Original language: en
Available languages: en
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