Springs and acquifers in the Northern Apennines (Italy)

Springs and aquifers of northern Apennine are:

  • strategic and irreplaceable resources at the service of a few and numerous scattered mountain settlements;
  • by far the best quality, because fed in complete contexts without sources of pollution: the extensive forest cover, the low anthropization and the existence of valuable areas from the environmental and naturalistic point of view are surely a guarantee of the quality of the water resource;

For these reasons the northern Apennine springs require the adoption of specific monitoring and protection programs, as required by the European Union’s Groundwater Directive, where the choice and application of methodologies for defining ground water protection zone becomes fundamental, in relation to specific hydrogeological context. In addition, the Apennine springs also play a primary role in landscape, tourism, recreation and the environment.

Estimation of recharge in mountain hard-rock aquifers based on discrete spring discharge monitoring during base-flow recession.


A European map of groundwater pH and calcium


Geological and hydrochemical prerequisites of unexpectedly high biodiversity in spring ecosystems at the landscape level


Characteristics, Main Impacts, and Stewardship of Natural and Artificial Freshwater Environments: Consequences for Biodiversity Conservation

In this overview (introductory article to a special issue including 14 papers), we consider all main types of natural and artificial inland freshwater habitas (fwh). For each type, we identify the main biodiversity patterns and ecological features, human impacts on the system and environmental issues, and discuss ways to use this information to improve stewardship. Examples of selected key biodiversity/ecological features (habitat type): narrow endemics, sensitive (groundwater and GDEs); crenobionts, LIHRes (springs); unidirectional flow, nutrient spiraling (streams); naturally turbid, floodplains, large-bodied species (large rivers); depth-variation in benthic communities (lakes); endemism and diversity (ancient lakes); threatened, sensitive species (oxbow lakes, SWE); diverse, reduced littoral (reservoirs); cold-adapted species (Boreal and Arctic fwh); endemism, depauperate (Antarctic fwh); flood pulse, intermittent wetlands, biggest river basins (tropical fwh); variable hydrologic regime—periods of drying, flash floods (arid-climate fwh). Selected impacts: eutrophication and other pollution, hydrologic modifications, overexploitation, habitat destruction, invasive species, salinization. Climate change is a threat multiplier, and it is important to quantify resistance, resilience, and recovery to assess the strategic role of the different types of freshwater ecosystems and their value for biodiversity conservation. Effective conservation solutions are dependent on an understanding of connectivity between different freshwater ecosystems (including related terrestrial, coastal and marine systems).


Ecohydrogeology: the interdisciplinary convergence needed to improve the study of springs and other groundwater-dependent habitats, biota, and ecosystems.

This essay highlights the advantages and challenges of integrating the scientific disciplines of ecology and hydrogeology in the study of groundwater-dependent ecosystems (GDEs). We define ecohydrogeology as “a unifying, synthetic field of study integrating the approaches from the ecological and hydrogeological sciences in the study of groundwater (GW)-related ecosystems, habitats, and organisms to advance science, stewardship, and policy”. Specific case studies are selected to illustrate first how hydrogeological approaches can favour in-depth understanding and modelling of springs and crenobiontic (spring-dependent) species distribution, assemblage composition and organization. Second, how taxa and assemblages serve as bioassays and ecosystem indicators to infer hydrogeological aspects of GW flow and discharge, as well as quantitative and qualitative human impacts. We define both types of features and parameters as ecohydrogeological indicators. The presented examples span from topics related to the impacts of variation in springs and other GDE geomorphological types and classification, GW quality influences on crenobiont distribution, phreatophyte ecophysiology in relation to water table depth, and flow variability in karstic systems, to nutrient dynamics in relation to dinoflagellate blooms in GDE montane lakes. Conceptual approaches that integrate ecology with hydrogeology include the investigation of GDE distribution and ecology, groundwater-surface water (GW-SW) interactions, and the development of the discipline of ecohydrology. Despite widespread applications, we are still far from a complete and effective integration of groundwater hydrogeology with ecology, ecophysiology, and environmental biology. Springs are aquatic-wetland-riparian habitats that link shallow subsurface-surface processes and assemblages, often functioning as biodiversity hotspots, ecotones, keystone, and refugial ecosystems, for which coordination between hydrogeology and ecology are both obvious and essential. Over the past century, springs ecosystem ecology has been largely ignored by hydrologists, and, conversely, hydrogeology has been under-emphasized by ecologists. Recent global recognition of the extraordinary biodiversity and socio-cultural significance of springs, coupled with their universally highly threatened conservation status, stimulated this inquiry into how to better integrate hydrogeology with springs ecology. Given the highly threatened status of springs ecosystems around the world, it is time to integrate and invigorate the union of these two disciplines into ecohydrogeology, the study of groundwater- dependent organisms, habitats, and ecosystems.


Areas prone to recent drought and heavy rainfall events: case studies in the Western Emilia-Romagna Apennines, Italy.

Interdisciplinary studies, for regional policies on climate change adaption

Alternations of intense rainfalls and droughts characterize nowadays climate evolution. To study the climate setting and the effects of these hydrological extremes, interdisciplinary collaboration based on Climate and Earth Sciences was carried out by ARPAE- SIMC  and the Geological, Seismic and Soli Survey of the Emilia-Romagna Region. Studies are in progress:

  • Individuation of a preliminary, quantitative relationship between heavy rainfall events and widespread debris-flow phenomena, in small catchment areas or “microbasins” (Grazzini et alii, 2016) The Autors analised the 2015 event in the Piacenza province and documented a linear increase of debris flow frequency for an intensity of 100-150 mm/3h of precipitations, in “microbasins” with slope inclination higher than 25°, the latter being a critical threshold for their activation.
  • A multidisciplinary project launched in 2017, searching for past precipitation-related events, starting from geological record and beyond the short instrumental history (Segadelli et alii, 2018). Stratigraphy of peat-bog deposits in the high Parma and Piacenza Apennines were studied, as natural archives of the geological effects of hyperconcentrated flood deposits triggered by high intensity precipitation events in the past
  • Classification of aquifers in the Emilia-Romagna Apennines (De Nardo, 2018), according to variations in the average annual precipitation values recorded in the periods 1961-1990 and 1991-2015 (ARPAE-SIMC, 2017a); studies on the use of springs as regional, early warning drought indicators, coupled with meteorological and hydrological data of existing monitoring networks.


ARPAE-SIMC (2017a) – Atlante Climatico dell’Emilia-Romagna

ARPAE-SIMC (2017b) – Rapporto preliminare sula siccità 2017. Rapporto Tecnico

Cruden D.M., Varnes D.J. (1996) – Landslide Types and Processes, Special Report , Transportation Research Board, National Academy of Sciences, 247:36-75

De Nardo M.T. (2018) – La siccità 2017, osservata dal settore montano, con il contributo della Geologia. Servizio Geologico, Sismico e dei Suoli, Regione Emilia-Romagna http://ambiente.regione.emilia-romagna.it/it/geologia/temi/acque/risorse-valorizzazione-montagna/la-siccita-2017-osservata-dal-settore-montano-con-il-contributo-della-geologia

Grazzini F., Segadelli S. e Fornasiero A,. (2016) – Precipitazioni estreme e effetti al suolo sul reticolo minore: il caso del 14 settembre 2015. ARPAE-SIMC e Servizio Geologico, Sismico e dei Suoli, Rapporto Tecnico. http://ambiente.regione.emilia-romagna.it/it/geologia/temi/acque/risorse-valorizzazione-montagna/torbiere-conche-lacustri-archivi-naturali

Stefano S, Grazzini F., Aguzzi M., Chelli A., Francese R., Rossi V., Staffilani F., De Nardo M.T., Nanni S. (2018) – Multidisciplinary analysis at Lake Moo site. A natural archive to gouge past and future trends in heavy rainfall events over Northern Apennines. Pster for the European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2018, Vienna, Austria, 8–13 April 2018

Regulatory Mesures: Decreto del Presidente della Regione Emilia-Romagna n. 149 del 4 agosto 2017; Decreto del Presidente della Regione Emilia-Romagna n. 178 del 13 novembre 2017; Decreto del Presidente della Regione Emilia-Romagna n. 32 del 29 marzo 2018; Regione Emilia-Romagna, Agenzia Regionale Protezione Civile, Piani dei primi interventi urgenti, eventi 13-14 ottobre 2014 e 13-14 settembre 2015.

File poster

Sorgenti e travertini nell’Appennino emiliano-romagnolo: studio a scala regionale per un quadro conoscitivo complessivo e cartografico delle sorgenti pietrificanti (LPS)

Le sorgenti che depositano carbonato di calcio per precipitazione a temperatura ambiente (in presenza cioè di acque “fredde”) sono un fenomeno geologico molto interessante, presente e non comune nell’Appennino emiliano-romagnolo; sono dette anche “pietrificanti” e, in letteratura, “Limestone Precipitating Springs” (LPS). Per i riferimenti bibliografici si rimanda alla pubblicazione “A global review on ambient Limestone-Precipitating Springs (LPS): Hydrogeological setting, ecology, and conservation” (Cantonati et alii, 2016), presentata sempre in questo sito.

Sorgenti e travertini nell’appennino-emiliano-romagnolo I

Sorgenti e travertini nell’appennino-emiliano-romagnolo II

Hydrogeological mapping of heterogeneous and multi-layered ophiolitic aquifers (Mountain Prinzera, northern Apennines, Italy)

A few hydrogeological studies have been carried out worldwide in peridotite aquifer systems, despite their wide distribution. The ophiolites are one of the main groundwater reservoir within the northern Apennines (Italy). This paper suggests the graphical solution to set the hydrogeological map of heterogeneous, multi-layered ophiolitic aquifers mapped on large scale (1:1600). The site investigation area is an ophiolite outcrop of the External Ligurian of the northern Apennines: the Mountain Prinzera rock complex area (44°38′30″N, 10°5′E; Parma Province, Emilia-Romagna Region). The hydrogeological characteristics of the tested aquifer system do not allow setting a hydrogeological map by applying usual graphical approaches. The hydrogeological map in such complex aquifer systems will show the classic hydrogeological data but must put in evidence above all (i) the main heterogeneities of the system, from the hydraulic point of view and (ii) the modifications of groundwater scenarios and pathways over time. The hydrogeological database of Mt Prinzera aquifer was managed in ESRI ArcGIS 10.0 software.

Ophiolitic aquifers Mountain Prinzera: Hydrogeological map


A conceptual hydrogeological model of ophiolitic aquifers (serpentinised peridotite)

The main aim of this study is the experimental analysis of the hydrogeological behaviour of the Mt. Prinzera ultramafic massif in the northern Apennines, Italy. The analyzed multidisciplinary database has been acquired through: (i) Geologic and structural survey; (ii) Geomorphologic survey; (iii) Hydrogeological monitoring; (iv) Physico-chemical analyses; (v) Isotopic analyses. The ultramafic medium is made of several lithological units, tectonically overlapped. Between them, a low-permeability, discontinuous unit has been identified. This unit behaves as an aquitard and causes a perched groundwater to temporary flow within the upper medium, close to the surface. This perched groundwater flows out along several structurally-controlled depressions, and then several high-altitude temporary springs can be observed during recharge, together with several perennial basal (i.e. low-altitude) springs, caused by the compartmentalisation of the system due to high-angle tectonic discontinuities.

A conceptual hydrogeological model of ophiolitic aquifers (serpentinised peridotite)

Acqua dalle rocce, una ricchezza della montagna: percorsi interdisciplinari nell’affascinante mondo delle sorgenti, 2016


La pubblicazione è dedicata al tema delle acque sotterranee dell’Appenino emiliano-romagnolo considerate dal punto di vista del geologo, con un’apertura al contributo di altre discipline;  un tema di estrema attualità e strategico sia per rilanciare la montagna sia per rispondere con efficacia agli effetti del cambiamento climatico sullo stato quantitativo e qualitativo delle risorse idri­che.

Lo studio di un argomento geologico risulta più completo quando vengono considerate sia le relazioni con altre discipline, sia l’aspetto evolutivo del fenomeno.

Il testo, in formato PDF navigabilevuole restituire al pubblico il lavoro svolto in quest’ambito dal Servizio Geologico Sismico e dei Suoli della Regione Emilia-Romagna negli ultimi dieci anni. Le elaborazioni e i casi di studio descritti sono il risultato di numerose collaborazioni con i Servizi regionali, le Province e le Università. Per la genesi dell’opera, sono state importanti le collaborazioni con l’Istituto dei Beni Artistici, Culturali e Naturali della Regione e con il Museo delle Scienze di Trento.

Oltre le generalità storiche nell’apertura del libro, contributo dell’Istituto Beni Artistici e Culturali Naturali della Regione Emilia-Romagna, nei vari capitoli sono trattati i temi dell’evoluzione delle cartografie sugli acquiferi montani, nei vari livelli di approssimazione; le acque termali; gli aspetti ecologici delle acque sorgive; gli studi di dettaglio su singoli acquiferi per la quantificazione delle risorse idriche sotterranee locali.

Un capitolo è interamente dedicato alle sorgenti carsiche, a cura della Federazione Speleologica Regionale dell’Emilia-Romagna.

Due Appendici, ricche di cartografie, immagini esemplificative e foto paesaggistiche, sono dedicate a: un caso di studio con monitoraggi locali attraverso piezometri, relativamente ad un acquifero ofiolitico; itinerari geologici su sorgenti e acquiferi montani, in ambito regionale.



Realizzato in collaborazione da: Servizio Geologico sismico e dei suoli della Direzione Generale Cura del Territorio e dell’Ambiente, Istituto Beni Artistici e Culturali Naturali della Regione Emilia-Romagna, Museo delle Scienze di Trento oltre ad Enti ed Istituzioni coinvolte nei casi di studio ed esperienze lavorative descritte nel testo.


Anno della pubblicazione: 2016


Website “Acqua dalle rocce, una richezza della montagna”

Pubblicazione “Acqua dalle rocce, una richezza della montagna”

A global review on ambient Limestone-Precipitating Springs (LPS): Hydrogeological setting, ecology, and conservation.

Springs are biodiversity hotspots and unique habitats that are threatened, especially by water overdraft. Here we review knowledge on ambient-temperature (non-geothermal) freshwater springs that achieve sufficient oversaturation for CaCO3 -by physical CO2 degassing and activity of photoautotrophs- to deposit limestone, locally resulting in scenic carbonate structures: Limestone-Precipitating Springs (LPS). The most characteristic organisms in these springs are those that contribute to carbonate precipitation, e.g.: the mosses Palustriella and Eucladium, the crenophilous desmid Oocardium stratum, and cyanobacteria (e.g., Rivularia). These organisms appear to be sensitive to phosphorus pollution. Invertebrate diversity is modest, and highest in pools with an aquatic-terrestrial interface. Internationally, comprehensive legislation for spring protection is still relatively scarce. Where available, it covers all spring types. The situation in Europe is peculiar: the only widespread spring type included in the EU Habitat Directive is LPS, mainly because of landscape aesthetics. To support LPS inventorying and management to meet conservation-legislation requirements we developed a general conceptual model to predict where LPS are more likely to occur. The model is based on the pre-requisites for LPS: an aquifer lithology that enables build-up of high bicarbonate and Ca2 + to sustain CaCO3 oversaturation after spring emergence, combined with intense groundwater percolation especially along structural discontinuities (e.g., fault zones, joints, schistosity), and a proper hydrogeological structure of the discharging area. We validated this model by means of the LPS information system for the Emilia-Romagna Region (northern Italy). The main threats to LPS are water diversion, nutrient enrichment, and lack of awareness by non-specialized persons and administrators. We discuss an emblematic case study to provide management suggestions. The present review is devoted to LPS but the output of intense ecological research in Central Europe during the past decades has clearly shown that effective conservation legislation should be urgently extended to comprise all types of spring habitats.