Swiss Geoscience Meeting 2019 – ‘Geoscience goes Underground’

the 17th Swiss Geoscience Meeting (SGM) in Fribourg was held in November 2019. Hundreds of scientists attend the meeting every year to share research on topics includin structural geology, geothermal energy, soils, remote sensing and hydro(geo)logy.

A road flooding

The Swiss Academy of Sciences (SCNAT) is an active network of researchers in a wide array of scientific and science+policy platforms, who organise activities including workshops, conferences, and symposia. Within the SCNAT geology platform, the 17th Swiss Geoscience Meeting (SGM) in Fribourg was held in November 2019.

Hundreds of scientists from Switzerland and abroad attend the meeting every year to share research on topics such as structural geology, geothermal energy, soils, remote sensing, hydro(geo)logy, humans and geography, and environmental policy.

Robin Weatherl (Early Stage Researcher 4) is based at EAWAG (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Sciences and Technology) in Zürich and enrolled at the University of Neuchâtel. She had the opportunity to take part in the 2-day meeting and give a presentation within the ‘hydrology, limnology, and hydrogeology’ session.

The session included presentations and posters on the impact of climate change for Alpine groundwater, eco-hydrological modelling of the ‘water tower of Europe’, temperature tracing in surface water bodies, and exploring the effects of novel irrigation technologies on groundwater recharge. Robin’s presentation shared her recent work on comparing methods to characterise surface runoff in human environments, and the relationship between surface runoff and groundwater recharge.

Her research focuses on the theme of modified landscapes for agricultural and urban development that alter the local water cycle. The jigsaw puzzle of crop types, drainage infrastructure, compacted soils, and impermeable surfaces creates complex modifications in watershed responses to storm events (Barnes et al., 2018; Eshtawi et al., 2016).

Changes in the ratio of infiltrating water to runoff water after storm events, and spatio-temporal changes in the contributing area of a catchment to a runoff event, are known to be major consequences of such land development. In addition, surface runoff is an active carrier of environmental pollutants: pesticides, pharmaceuticals, NAPLs, and other products are readily dispersed into water bodies with increases in surface runoff.

It becomes clear that these water balance changes are consequential to both the availability of water resources as well as water quality (Burri et al., 2019). Due to the complex dynamics of runoff generation in these areas, she is applying a diversity of methods in an attempt to characterise them: comparing the use of chemical and isotopic tracers, data from river gauges, or data from rainfall measurements.

Overall, discussion on water cycle dynamics in the human environment was a common topic at SGM 2019 and in the hydrology, limnology, and hydrogeology session in particular. This offered a useful platform for Robin to interact with both hydrologists and hydrogeologists on the topic – a perfect combination of perspectives for discussing the surface water and groundwater interactions that are very relevant to her current research questions.

In addition to presenting and receiving feedback on her own research of groundwater dynamics, she was able to hear what other scientists are doing in the field of water science. This was great way to expand knowledge in the field, and to have a better perception on the direction that the research is taking.

To see more information on the Swiss Geoscience Meeting in Fribourg, please visit


Barnes, M.L., Welty, C., Miller, A.J., 2018. Impacts of Development Pattern on Urban Groundwater Flow Regime. Water Resour. Res. 1–15.

Burri, N.M., Weatherl, R., Moeck, C., Schirmer, M., 2019. A review of threats to groundwater quality in the anthropocene. Sci. Total Environ. 684, 136–154.

Eshtawi, T., Evers, M., Tischbein, B., 2016. Quantifying the impact of urban area expansion on groundwater recharge and surface runoff. Hydrol. Sci. J. 61, 826–843.