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A strategic programme for NERC Lowland catchment research
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Seeing the big picture

Computer models have been used to combine the results from all the diverse LOCAR studies. These models map how water moves across and through a catchment.

Models of catchments are an important way of bringing together all the information about a river system to help to inform management decisions, develop policies and draw up new regulations. Researchers create sets of equations, solved by computer, which represent the timing and routing of water and its contaminants, and the chemical and biological changes taking place as the water moves through the catchment. These models can predict how change in one part of the catchment will affect the quality and quantity of water in another: for example, how reducing fertiliser applications or increasing groundwater abstractions may affect the wetland habitat around a river.

LOCAR data have also shown some limitations of conventional groundwater models. How groundwater interacts with the rivers is more complicated than was previously thought. Better models are needed for managing water to protect river habitats, which often include rare and protected species.

LOCAR researchers have produced a new model to show how water and pollutants move through the deep unsaturated zone the layer between the surface and the water table. The model successfully predicts the movement of pollutants from the soil to the river. The effects of future climate change and agricultural fertiliser application can now be predicted. More about recharge to teh Chalk

A promising model of evaporation across an entire catchment has been developed. This model incorporates the effects of different types of land cover by combining field results with satellite measurements. This work gives a useful insight into the water use of common agricultural crops and will improve our ability to estimate how much rain reaches the groundwater. More about estimating evaporation

Other computer models produced by LOCAR include models of slope erosion, bank erosion, movement of fine sediments (and hence their associated chemicals), and movement of nitrogen and phosphorus.