Presenting … Ecologist Constanze Englisch

Looking into the "invisible"

In cities like Vienna, various stress factors, such as rising temperatures affect the groundwater. Constanze Englisch is investigating the effects of these increased temperatures on microorganisms and animals. Together with her team, she develops ideas for using the heat of groundwater sustainably and economically, as she explains in the video.
"My research looks into an ecosystem that no one knows or sees but yet is heavily utilised!", says Constanze Englisch. Watch the video to find out more about Constanze Englisch's research.

"Shallow groundwater is an almost unrecognised ecosystem directly below our feet," Constanze Englisch, PhD candidate at the Vienna Doctoral School of Ecology and Evolution, says. Yet groundwater is one of our most important resources. Its good quality is maintained by the essential ecosystem services that microorganisms and highly specialised groundwater animals provide. 

Guidelines for the sustainable use of groundwater resources

"But in urban areas, such as the city of Vienna, a variety of anthropogenic activities and stressors impact the groundwater," the Impact.Award Winner of 2022 explains. Rising temperatures, in fact, trigger a cascade of effects that lead to the deterioration of biodiversity, ecosystem functions and groundwater quality. 

Her research, as part of the WWTF project Heat Below the City, focuses on identifying temperature tipping points at which significant impacts on the subsurface ecosystem and groundwater quality can be expected. "And I aim to identify the effects of increased groundwater temperature to microorganisms and animals in urban groundwater," says the ecologist, who is developing management options together with her team to make use of the groundwater heat in a sustainable, economic way, "This means that we want to develop guidelines for the sustainable use of groundwater resources."

15 Vienna Doctoral Schools. Since 2020.

Since 2020, the Vienna Doctoral Schools provide excellent conditions including team supervision and various funding possibilities that enable the realisation of international competitive research. In the doctoral schools, doctoral candidates find an active and inspiring research environment, a vibrant doctoral community and many ways to connect with peers from home and abroad on a social and professional level.

More than 300 groundwater samples in Vienna

Groundwater research means looking into the "invisible". "In two campaigns, my colleagues and I pumped groundwater and sampled animals from over 300 points distributed all over the city of Vienna," Constanze Englisch explains. After returning to the laboratory, the researchers analysed the samples to learn about the groundwater quality and the biodiversity of microbes and fauna with respect to heat distribution. In doing so, they use newly established groundwater ecosystem health indices.

"After statistical evaluation, modelling and illustration, I am looking forward to publishing and presenting the results to a wide public audience, including international as well as national stakeholders," Englisch emphasises.

We all depend on groundwater of good quality

In Austria, 100 percent of our drinking water stems from groundwater. "However, we should not forget that the purification of water in nature is achieved by microorganisms tightly connected to higher organisms," says the young researcher and emphasises, "If we want to protect our groundwater resources, we need to protect the underground ecosystems."
Constanze Englisch's research is particularly relevant with regard to the increasing demand for renewable, geothermal energy, "We need to understand how impacts, such as groundwater warming affect biological processes and water quality and, ultimately, need to work on establishing an integrative groundwater management. Because eventually, we all depend on groundwater of good quality." 

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If we want to protect our groundwater resources, we need to protect the underground ecosystems.
Constanze Englisch

For Constanze Englisch, the Vienna Doctoral School of Ecology and Evolution provides perfect framework conditions for a successful PhD. "I highly appreciate to be part of this institution that allows me to study a very important and applicable field with the help of an individually composed thesis committee. And I am also excited to help maintain the high standard of living in cities like Vienna." (red)

What if our groundwater warms up? Watch the video to understand Constanze Englisch's research.
© Benjamin Furtlehner
© Benjamin Furtlehner
Constanze Englisch is a PhD candidate at the Vienna Doctoral School of Ecology and Evolution and works at the Department for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology at the University of Vienna. As part of the research project Heat Below the City, she investigates the impact of rising groundwater temperatures on groundwater quality and ecology in Vienna.

Book tip on the topic

Groundwater Ecology and Evolution (Editors: Florian Malard, Christian Griebler, Sylvie Retaux). Christian Griebler is Professor of Limnology at the Department of Functional and Evolutionary Ecology at the University of Vienna.