In Tulum, a small Mexican town at the Caribbean coast, citizens and scientists join to prise out valuable information of a vast hidden karst groundwater regime for learning more about their important water resource.

Mexico, fresh water, monitoring

The project overview

Area of Science: Natural Sciences
Location: Mexico, region of Tulum
Used Devices: without PC/Mobile, with PC/Mobile
Equipment of citizen scientists: Water analysis test kits, smartphone or camera, computer, measurement forms
Activities of citizen scientists: sharing ideas, collecting, measuring, photographing
Suitable for: Youngsters and adults
Project duration: 01.11.2016 - 31.07.2019
Time to join in: 01.11.2016 - 30.06.2018
Expenditure of time: Basic course 2 days; field measurement 30 min, 2-3 per week; data transfer 20 min per week

Project objective

Tulum is a little Mexican town, located at the Caribbean Coast of the Yucatan peninsula, famous for its Mayan ruins and cenotes, little sinkholes in the jungle, filled with crystal-clear water. There are species-rich lagoons and wetland in the nearby Sian Ka’an bio-reserve. However, the extended main water flow system is hidden in the karstic underground. The local population uses the water through private wells or the public water supply, which operates strong pumps in few cenotes. The big karst water regime is only visible through scattered clear cenotes, so there is no obvious indication for degrading water quality. Hence, the public interest remains at a low level.

The fresh water resource is concentrated in a top layer, only several meters thick beneath the town, and thinning to zero at the shore - beneath the fresh water layer there is sea water. The fresh water is endangered by urban development increasing demand, imperfectly sealed sewage systems and waste deposits prone to leaks as well. Therefore, pollution threatens the fresh water resource, the nearby Sian Ka’an bio reserve, an important touristic income. Dives in the conduit system beneath the city and first analyses of wells, cenotes and lagoons conducted in the course of the projects ‘Xplore’ and the ‘Xibalba’ already show an indication of upcoming threats and the need for continuous monitoring of the water's condition.

The realisation of an adequate monitoring network is accomplished with support of the local population reached through schools.

Pupils are provided basic knowledge and skills to do chemical on-site water analysis with simple, commercially available tests in introductory courses of one to two days duration. After that they are able to do field measurements independently. They fill out measurement forms and upload data by smartphone/internet.

Uploaded data is processed at the Geological Survey of Austria. Results and maps are then regularly prepared for public access. In the base project ‘Xibalba’, a collaboration between European and Mexican partners, one essential approach is innovative stochastic generation of a hydrological model, which enables estimations of capacity, dynamics, and robustness of the ground water system. The additional TCS project should extend the input data set to longer time series and extended spatial coverage (up to 22 months, 1 measurement per day, 30 locations) which would improve the model significantly.

The incorporation of the citizens through schools and the public availability of the results can be an effective and sustainable way to improve the understanding of the water resource, its importance as well as the importance of the research conducted in the base project, e.g. spreading of pollutant plumes should be covered. In the course of this project the contribution is constraint to local citizens of Tulum. However, the development of a kind of partner-school-collaboration is in progress and may be proposed in the course of e.g. the sparkling science programme, since water is a topic of growing importance in all parts of the world.

Participating and supporting institutions


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