Use of molecular approaches in hydrogeological studies: the case of carbonate aquifers in southern Italy


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Publication Date

January 2017


Waterborne pathogens represent a significant health risk in both developed and developing countries with sensitive sub-populations including children, the elderly, neonates, and immune-compromised people, who are particularly susceptible to enteric infections. Annually, approximately 1.8 billion people utilize a faecally contaminated water source, and waterborne diseases are resulting in up to 2.1 million human mortalities globally. Although groundwater has traditionally been considered less susceptible to contamination by enteric pathogens than surface water due to natural attenuation by overlying strata, the degree of microbial removal attributable to soils and aquifers can vary significantly depending on several factors. Thus, accurate assessment of the variable presence and concentration of microbial contaminants, and the relative importance of potentially causative factors affecting contaminant ingress, is critical in order to develop effective source (well) and resource (aquifer) protection strategies. “Traditional” and molecular microbiological study designs, when coupled with hydrogeological, hydrochemical, isotopic, and geophysical methods, have proven useful for analysis of numerous aspects of subsurface microbial dynamics. Consequently, this overview paper presents the principal microbial techniques currently being employed (1) to predict and identify sources of faecal contamination in groundwater, (2) to elucidate the dynamics of contaminant migration, and (3) to refine knowledge about the hydrogeological characteristics and behaviors of aquifer systems affected by microbial contamination with an emphasis on carbonate aquifers, which represent an important global water supply. Previous investigations carried out in carbonate aquifers in southern Italy are discussed.


Groundwater Protection, Contamination, Microbial Techniques, Carbonate Rocks, Health




Hydrogeology Journal, Vol. 25, no. 4 (2017).