Colombian geologist Sara Polanco uses computer game-like river modeling software to understand the processes that create and connect river networks, hopefully providing the tools to help better manage water resources in the future .
“This software allows me to simulate the evolution of rivers under different scenarios,” says Polanco. “In a way, it’s like a video game in which I create different worlds, based on real landscapes, and I control the formation of mountains, the climate and sea level.”
She is currently a lecturer in the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney and says that despite the key role rivers play in society, more research is needed to understand the fundamental factors that cause rivers to change over time. millions of years.
“Rivers are our planet’s bloodlines…they provide water, nutrients and living space for over 90% of the human population,” she says, adding that the greatest opportunity of this project is that a controlled virtual environment allows it to provide key information to sustainably manage groundwater resources stored in ancient river deposits.
“The lack of basic understanding of the evolution of rivers hampers humanity’s ability to prepare for their future environmental changes and to effectively manage the water resources stored in their ancient underground river deposits,” Polanco said.
From the Andes to Australia
Polanco says she grew up in Colombia, surrounded by the Andes.
“As a child, these tremendous landscapes stimulated a deep curiosity in me,” she says, “I spent hours wondering how these mountains and rivers formed and dictated where we lived.”
Polanco says she had a Eureka moment in high school when she learned how fractal geometry could be used to measure the overall “roughness” of coastlines, river basins and mountains.
“To combine my passion for landscapes and science, I decided to do my undergraduate degree in Earth Sciences,” she says, “It was then that I learned many fascinating aspects of Australian geology.
Polanco wondered why the old Australian landscapes were so different from the young Colombian topography
“Why do some rivers flow into central Australia instead of the sea?” she says, “Why do these Australian rivers and lakes only fill four times a century?”
During her undergraduate studies, Polanco says, living in Australia and studying one of these landscapes seemed like an unattainable dream.
“To move towards realizing my dream, I applied for a PhD in Australia where part of my doctoral research focused on understanding the unique river systems of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, the lake that gave me captivated since I was an undergraduate in Colombia,” she says, adding that she has now lived for ten years in Australia, a place I now call home.
“I also live surrounded by 200 million year old fluvial deposits in the Blue Mountains, which are a constant source of inspiration,” says Polanco.
Another Colombian researcher with a passion for geology and water resources is Miriam Rios-Sanchez.
Rios-Sanchez was pursuing a major in geology and training as a volcanologist before a quirk of fate took her into the field of hydrogeology, the study of where and how groundwater moves through the earth’s crust.