Entering piezometric data to a portable field computer (2009). © BRGM

Aquaref - keeping a close watch on aquatic environments

Aquaref, a consortium of scientific organisations, acts as a virtual collaborative laboratory which has been closely monitoring aquatic environments for ten years. Its achievements as the national reference laboratory for aquatic environment monitoring are impressive, with the BRGM playing a central role in numerous areas, including the development of guides, methods, collaborative testing, technical assistance and anticipatory measures.

Borehole investigations using a probe to determine whether (or not) any heterogeneity is present in the water composition. © BRGM - F. Gal

Borehole investigations using a probe to determine whether (or not) any heterogeneity is present in the water composition. © BRGM - F. Gal

Because of its importance to a great many environmental and health issues, surveillance of aquatic environments demands careful attention to the data collected. Appropriate methods and tools are therefore needed to guarantee the reliability of the data. This is the main goal of the Aquaref consortium, set up in 2007 by the BRGM, Ifremer, INERI, Irstea and the LNE. Aquaref runs scientific and technical assistance programmes supported by the French biodiversity agency (AFB) and the Ministry for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition (MTES).

Experts and scientists contribute their complementary and multidisciplinary competences to the collaborative work undertaken through Aquaref as an open, “virtual” laboratory.

Logo for Aquaref's 10th anniversary

For its 10th anniversary symposium in 2017, the agencies involved reviewed their work to date to provide scientific and technical assistance to policies for the surveillance of aquatic environments.

Ensuring reliability along the entire data acquisition chain

One of Aquaref’s main tasks is to ensure the reliability of the data acquisition chain, from regulatory compliance, sampling and analysis through to databanking. This is an important issue under the Framework Water Directive.

Aquaref’s work in its ten years of existence has covered a wide range of activities. Its scientific and technical studies, such as its comparative tests of sampling and analysis methods and development of analytical methods for regulated pollutants, have resulted in transfers of good practice via the national guidelines and recommendations produced, contributions to French and international standards development and technical seminars for sampling personnel and laboratories.

360 open-access technical reports, 60 methods files, 17 technical seminars

Other activities include assistance to the MTES in drafting regulations, to the AFB for the certification of external laboratories and to the water offices and agencies for the operational implementation of surveillance activities.

Finally, Aquaref permanently monitors scientific developments in its field and conducts large-scale exercises to test the applicability of new surveillance tools and methods.

Bringing specific competences to common national analytical expertise

The results of ten years of collaborative work can be summarised as follows: an original and fruitful system of national analytical expertise shared between complementary organisations each contributing specific competences.

The BRGM contributes its analytical and metrological expertise on environmental matrices and groundwater. Within Aquaref, it is responsible for piloting activities to improve sampling operations and contributes to technical studies on groundwater, in particular on managing risks of contamination, sampling uncertainties and preparing national technical guides.

Deploying passive samplers in a river. © BRGM - A. Togola

Deploying passive samplers in a river. © BRGM - A. Togola

Aquaref’s accredited laboratories specialise in the geosciences and contribute to developments concerning analyses of substances listed for surveillance in groundwater bodies and sediments. These studies are available as “methods files” from the Aquaref website at: https://www.aquaref.fr.

The BRGM also coordinates its technical assistance to the Ministry, the AFB and the water offices and agencies.

Looking beyond the regulatory aspects, surveillance of aquatic environments has to be constantly evolving. Anticipation is the key word for Aquaref, within which the BRGM works with its partners on the validation and applicability of new surveillance methods, such as passive sampling and non-targeted screening (by high resolution mass spectrometry).

The BRGM is at the hub of this shared system of expertise and is actively contributing to the high quality of surveillance of aquatic environments.

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