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Thomas D. Krom from Seequent shares vision on reaching net zero through subsurface knowledge

  • Thomas D. Krom from Seequent shares vision on reaching net zero through subsurface knowledge

As world leaders gather at COP annual events to work on solutions to tackle climate change, private companies commit to help organisations solve the challenges ahead. Seequent, a leader in subsurface software, provides solutions that are used across the world to develop vital mineral resources in a more sustainable way, source renewable energy to accelerate the energy transition, and help solve challenges such as groundwater contamination.

Representing Seequent at COP28 was Dr Thomas D. Krom, Director responsible for environmental activities. In this interview, he explains how digital tools can advance sustainable water management, and the contributions of subsurface mapping technologies to addressing specific challenges like drought, salinity and contamination in aquifer systems.

Question: Can you tell us briefly about your career path and your current role at Seequent?

Answer: I worked for around 20 years as a hydrogeologist focusing on groundwater modelling and collaborated with universities and many others to deliver cutting-edge solutions. That led me to meet the people who started what is now Seequent, The Bentley Subsurface Company. Since 2007, I have worked in Seequent, where I have held a number of roles on both the product and sales side. Currently, I am the Director responsible for our environmental activities. I have a Ph.D., M.S. and a B.S.E.

Q: Why do you think it was important for Seequent, a leader in developing powerful geoscience analysis and modelling software, to be present at COP28?

A: Seequent believes there will be no net zero by 2050 without a better understanding of the underground. Seequent helps organisations solve some of the world's biggest challenges. Our solutions are used to help sustainable water resource management and protection, resolve historical challenges such as groundwater contamination, study the impacts of climate change, source renewable energy to accelerate the energy transition and develop vital mineral resources more sustainably.

Seequent understands the role of geoscience analysis and modelling in addressing environmental challenges, especially regarding climate change. For more than 10 years, we’ve been a leader in developing powerful geoscience software and collaboration tools that enable better decisions for people and the planet, so it’s important for Seequent to participate in events such as COP28.

It’s impossible to truly understand what you can’t see and measure. Seequent understands that context is the key to connecting the right information to give the right insights to make the right decisions. We can see the real, measurable impact on the world our customers in 150 countries are having using our solutions to visualise and better understand complex data to tackle challenges in the geosciences.

Seequent’s Dr Thomas Krom (far right) speaking at a COP28 panel discussion run by New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE): Battening Down For The Incoming Storm: How New Zealand's Adaptation Experience Can Bolster Resilience and Prosperity of Pacific Island Nations Facing Climate Change.

At COP28, Seequent advocated for:

  • Recognition of the crucial role of collective subsurface understanding in achieving net zero.
  • Investment in the next generation of earth scientists and digital tools to solve challenges better and faster.
  • Awareness of the power of subsurface data to accelerate resilience while fostering collaboration and transformative action.

COP28 is where civil society and businesses share ideas, promote green technologies, and connect to build solutions to the global climate crisis. Seequent can be part of the solution. Our software and collaborative technologies enable new ways to solve increasingly complex problems, manage risk, and uncover valuable insights from data. We’re continually innovating with future challenges in mind and expanding our global reach, so we must connect and share ideas with people, organisations, industries and governments working to solve these challenges at important forums like COP.

Q: How can digitalisation increase sustainable water management?

A: Digitalisation offers a transformative pathway toward sustainable water management by enhancing data-driven decision-making. It allows for real-time monitoring, modelling, and analysis, enabling proactive identification of water-related issues. Water management grapples with multifaceted challenges, notably the issue of non-revenue water and the imperative to revamp strategies amidst climate change, urbanisation, and escalating competition for high-quality potable water supplies.

Our solutions are used to help sustainable water resource management and protection, resolve historical challenges such as groundwater contamination

As water systems evolve in complexity, the demand for more advanced and user-friendly tools becomes evident. A prime example is the necessity for a one-water digital twin, crucial for facilitating efficient management and enhancing transparency in decision-making processes within the water system. Collaboration is improved, and risks are mitigated using a digital twin in project meetings with internal and external stakeholders. For example, EchoWater minimised the effects on existing plant operations during construction. What I liked about this project, as a hydrogeologist, is that the newly-cleaned water can be stored underground in aquifers to be available for irrigation – securing food supplies – via the parallel project Harvest Water. That supports 6,500 ha of farmland in the Central Valley of California.

We need to expand the advantages of digital technologies to all parts of the water value chain everywhere. The use of the groundwater system as an actively managed part of the water supply system is rapidly increasing globally.

Q: How can advanced subsurface mapping technologies contribute to addressing specific challenges like saltwater intrusion and contamination in aquifer systems?

A: American groundwater has been severely depleted in recent decades, with 40% of more than 85,000 wells hitting all-time lows in the past decade and rainwater failing to replace the losses. Seequent technology is helping address challenges across the West, from polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) to drought, salinity, nitrates and increased competition for water.

We are coupling data to state-of-the-art analysis, which yields an approach that is collaborative, accessible and contextual. For example, our partner, Stanford University, used Seequent technologies, including ERT, to map saltwater intrusion and geology along the Monterey Bay coastline in 3D. This provided unique & crucial insights for improved groundwater management.  ERT can identify where geologic features are impacting the pattern of intrusion, where surface water is changing the salinity of underlying sediments, and where anthropogenic actions (such as pumping from individual wells) are causing saltwater intrusion. It can often deliver insights not available through traditional data or highlight where further information could be most usefully gathered in regions where data is limited.

Location sketch: Seequent collaborated with the Universitat de Barcelona on a study using ERT, Leapfrog Geo, and AGS Res2DInv software. This collaborative effort aimed to unlock the potential of Soil Aquifer Treatment (SAT) for recycling wastewater and recharging aquifers, offering an innovative non-conventional water supply solution.

Such uses could significantly improve predictions and management of saltwater intrusion and should be transferable to other basins worldwide impacted similarly to Monterey; for example, we have done work with an organisation in Spain that applied this type of approach. Seequent collaborated with the Universitat de Barcelona on a study using ERT, Leapfrog Geo, and AGS Res2DInv software. This collaborative effort aimed to unlock the potential of Soil Aquifer Treatment (SAT) for recycling wastewater and recharging aquifers, offering an innovative non-conventional water supply solution. The study identified critical roadblocks, such as salinity in shallow aquifers and anomalies triggered by water pumping, leading to solutions like portable desalination plants and aquifer recharging. This approach streamlined modelling and saved time, bolstering stakeholder commitment to SAT and enhancing water security for coastal communities.

Volumes of estimated areas (RBF) with low resistivity values (underground entry of seawater, replacing the freshwater horizon that was used by farmers) shown in Leapfrog Geo.

Q: Bold strides are needed to tackle climate change and water-related issues; however, most leaders still have a business-as-usual mentality. What is Seequent’s vision to ensure water security and water quality?

A: At Seequent, supporting our customers in understanding and managing this vital resource is an integral part of the contribution we can make to ensuring water security for all. Our approach combines collaboration and data-driven insights to foster sustainable solutions. We strive to empower stakeholders with advanced tools and knowledge to drive informed decisions, prioritising water security and ensuring access to clean water while maintaining its quality for current and future generations. To break the “business-as-usual” mentality, we also work to show our customers, potential customers and other stakeholders the financial, increased productivity and risk-reduction advantages of employing solution methodologies like those we deliver.

Q: Do you think water was enough of a high-level priority at COP28? Should it have focused more on this vital resource?

A: While COP28 acknowledged water's significance, more can be done to elevate its priority further. Water is a fundamental resource interlinked with various climate-related challenges. Therefore, enhancing its prominence within discussions and actions is crucial to addressing global sustainability and resilience effectively. That is one of the reasons we went to COP28.

Seequent technology is helping address challenges across the West, from polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) to drought, salinity, nitrates and increased competition for water

Adopting a status-quo approach poses the risk of exacerbating the ever-worsening impacts of climate change. It is imperative to significantly elevate the profile and acknowledge the critical significance of water. Enhancing government and community engagement, investing in research, and deploying technology solutions are important components needed to advance climate adaptation plans.

Q: What would you highlight from COP28?

A: At COP28, Seequent highlighted the importance of technology in environmental sustainability. A growing consensus was observed on the role of data-driven solutions and digital innovation in addressing climate-related challenges. Emphasis was placed on partnerships, collaborative efforts, and knowledge sharing among stakeholders to achieve collective climate goals, which included the aspect that the solution design process needed to be inclusive and holistic.

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