Published: 06th March 2021
Women's Day: Ever heard of submarine groundwater discharge? Mintu Elizabeth's research will ensure that everyone knows about it soon
Mintu Elizabeth has been researching submarine groundwater discharge for the past five years. We speak to her about what she has discovered about the lesser-known geological phenomenon
Since October 2015, Mintu Elizabeth has been snooping around wells in people's backyards along the coastline in Beypore, Kozhikode. A doctoral researcher at the National Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS) in Thiruvananthapuram, her research is on submarine groundwater discharge (SGD). Simply put, just as salt water from the sea makes its way into groundwater in coastal areas, the intrusion of freshwater from the ground into the sea is also as common a phenomena.
"In India, especially at the time I began researching this, there was virtually zero research that had gone into this, other than two or three publications that had mentioned it," says Mintu, adding, "However, at a global level, it is being studied in depth. This is important because groundwater carries a large amount of nutrients. When this enters the sea, it affects the flora and fauna that exist in the ocean. Although I had another research topic in mind initially, I decided to focus on this after joining CESS and realising how much more we could uncover."
Through her research, the 29-year-old has found that SGD undoubtedly occurs on the Indian coastline. Apart from the effects the phenomenon has on marine life and the ecosystem, her focus is on how it affects people at the ground level in places like Beypore. While salt water invasion into drinking water has been a long standing issue among the community, the possibility of groundwater discharge presents the option of maintaining it. This theory called Coastal Accessor Management is about maintaining the level of water through even distribution.
She explains, "In these parts, the government does not regularly supply water like in major cities. So people are mostly dependent on well water. So being able to manage this is a pivotal part of my research. The occurrence of mud banks (calm, turbid regions in coastal waters) are a direct result of SGD that I was able to learn about from the field. These formations had grown common in parts of Kerala and the specialty of this phenomenon is that a lot of the nutrient concentration in the sea increases and stays calm in areas where the sea rages more. Here, more fish is available and it is very useful to the fishing community. The nutrient source has to be groundwater. This is one among many hypotheses that I've reached."
Currently, CESS has embarked on a research project titled 'Mission SGC' along the Indian coast in at attempt to study these impacts in detail. Since the research has only just begun, they are unable to evaluate the intensity of it right now. While Mintu hopes to wind up her thesis by May this year, the research itself will continue for the next three years. She credits the people of Kozhikode for being helpful when she needed to collect samples from their wells. In fact, over her multiple visits, it grew to become like an interactive survey.
Having done her Master's in Marine Geology at CUSAT, the researcher won the opportunity to do research thanks to two scholarships that she bagged. She says, "The Indian research scene has become very encouraging for women these days. The Kerala government and the Central Government offer many postdoctoral fellowships specifically for women. It is such a boon for women who may have taken career breaks due to marriage or pregnancy. I would like to continue my research abroad if I get the opportunity. I know that I want to lead the life of an academic for sure!"