Plenty of interest in the Africa Groundwater Atlas in Montpellier

The room is packed as more than 50 people sit and stand to listen to Brighid O Dochartaigh present the Africa Groundwater Atlas. Interest in this initiative this week at the 43rd IAH Congress in Montpellier is high; but I think that this is merely a drop in the ocean and interest will grow in the coming months and years as it becomes more widely known and used.

So what makes this atlas so important?

Well, lack of available, robust information on groundwater constrains safe and sustainable development of the resource. In fact, there is actually lots of information out there, but it remains dispersed and often hard to find; whether on bookshelves, buried in archives, on somebody’s computer or behind journal pay walls. Building on the SADC Grey Literature archive, the Africa Groundwater Atlas and Literature Archive is drawing this information out, and making it available to the public.

What is actually in the Atlas and Literature Archive?

The Atlas provides a consistent overview of key aquifers for 51 countries in Africa. Maps, tables and narrative descriptions provide an overview of the hydrogeology, groundwater status and management of these countries. The Atlas also includes supporting data on climate, surface water, topography, soil, land cover, and geology. It can help you to find out who is who in groundwater in a particular country, and is an ideal place to find out what has already been written for a particular country or region.

If (like me) you are not a hydrogeologist the Atlas is a great starting point for understanding the groundwater resource; and if you are a hydrogeologist, you are likely to be delighted to see the amount of information that has been pulled together.

The Atlas provides new country-scale geological maps together with consistent summaries of the major formations in each country. Some countries have more information than others. However, the team at the British Geological Survey working on the Atlas are reaching out to collaborate with others to improve what’s already there.

Currently, the literature archive is the most comprehensive index of African groundwater literature in the world. It provides a phenomenal index of literature, with over 7000 documents on groundwater from across the continent. The library includes unpublished reports from 1897 to 2014, as well as links to academic papers. While the sheer number of entries may sound overwhelming, the powerful indexing system with keywords, free search possibilities and geo-referenced reports (for 2000 documents) makes searching for information remarkably easy. Just try it!

Looking forward

The Atlas and Archive are not finished! There is still much to do in order to draw out more information and reports, and improve the descriptions for several countries in the Atlas. So I ask those of you with groundwater information that you would like to share to please contact the team at the British Geological Survey ( to contribute to the Archive and Atlas. While the Atlas has not included detailed groundwater data, the UPGro project GroFutures is trying to bring together long-term groundwater data and form a network of African Observatories so that those holding the data can work together to improve the understanding and management of groundwater for the African continent.

Finally – What has made the Atlas possible?

The Atlas and literature archive are funded by UPGro (Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor), a seven-year UK-funded research programme that runs up to 2020. The Atlas was prepared in collaboration with the International Association (IAH) Burdon Network and was only possibly thanks to more than 50 co-authors working on groundwater across the African continent.20160927_101208atlas_2


  1. Good stuff. I’m not a hydrogeologist either, so I have a couple perhaps naive questions.

    I took a quick look at the atlas- clicked around and found that the type of resource/publication was quite varied. Aren’t depth charts and water quality assessments most valuable, among all the other types of publications? If so, are these or other type of resources expected to be tagged as such?

    Also, at some point this becomes valuable to national IWRM systems, correct? Any examples where a country is using this resource?

  2. Hello Ed, many thanks for your comments! Good points. Yes, water quality & depth to water are really important. But in most cases of paramount importance is the productivity of the aquifer – how much groundwater can be abstracted. Then knowing depth to water can help refine this understanding; and knowing about any water quality issues allow you to assess further. However, there is often relatively little information on depth to groundwater and/or groundwater quality at a national scale.

    Were you talking specifically about the Archive and the tagged keywords? There’s a Groundwater Levels keyword which refers to depth to groundwater measurements; and various keywords under the heading Groundwater Quality. Do you think we need to explain the hydrogeological keywords better?? (Incidentally, we do plan to have the keyword list available alphabetically in future too!) Feedback always useful!

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