A groundwater nitrogen transport model that intends to assist answer two main questions: 1) What is the long-term effect of land-use change (such as a conversion from sheep to dairy) on groundwater in various parts of a system? 2) How long will it take to achieve this long-term effect?

The tool has been used to simulate the transport of nitrate agriculture diffuse sources in Canterbury aquifers and test what if scenarios 


AquiferSim is a GIS-based steady-state regional scale groundwater flow and contaminant transport model.

AquiferSim is a regional-scale model of nitrate transport in groundwater and is part of the research programme ‘Integrated Research for Aquifer Protection (IRAP)’. IRAP members were: Lincoln Ventures Ltd, Landcare Research, Environment Canterbury, Plant & Food, AgResearch, Dexcel, ESR and Aqualinc).

The model predicts the long-term effects of agricultural land use on groundwater quality in the underlying aquifers and groundwater discharge to surface waters. The aim is to help inform decisions about the future of land-use and water resource planning at a national level. AquiferSim works in tandem with another model under development by Lincoln Ventures, called FarmSim, which predicts the effect on the groundwater as a whole. The root-zone nitrate concentration and recharge information can also be supplied by other models like Overseer or SPASMO.

Latest Version Last release in 2011
State of Development Stable Release
Current Development Activity None

Development Contact

Lincoln Agritech Ltd
PO Box 69 133,
Christchurch 7640
New Zealand

Main Developers

  • Landcare Research
  • Lincoln ventures Ltd


Outcome Areas Environmental
Management Domains Land, Freshwater
Subdomains Contaminant Losses, Crop/Farm Systems
Intended End Users
  • Researcher
  • Regional Council Scientist
  • Policy Analyst
  • General Usability
  • Regional Councils
Spatial Resolutions 10-100m, 100-500m, 500-1000m
Spatial Extents Local (i.e. Catchment or District)
Spatial Dimensions 2D, 3D
Temporal Resolutions Unknown
Temporal Extents Decades
Steady State or Dynamic Steady State
Level of Integration Environmental

Input & Output Data

Key Input Data Rainfall, Land Use, Land Cover, Drainage Topography
Input Data Formats XLS(X), GIS compatible files
Key Output Data Groundwater discharge - quantity and quality
Output Data Formats GIS Compatible Files


Open/Closed Source Closed Source
Licence Type Unknown

User Information

Operating Systems MS Windows Other AquiferSim is a .NET2 console application that runs in conjunction with ESRI ArcView Desktop 10.0 (or ArcInfo) and Spatial Analyst.
Software Needed ArcView
User Interface Graphical desktop
Ease of Use Moderate GIS expertise is required for preparing the data layers including those generated by other models. AquiferSim has several idiosyncrasies that the analyst must be aware of, that are described in the user documentation. Groundwater modelling expertise is also required to ensure sensible definition of hydraulic boundary condition and interpretation of results.
Use in Policy Process Plan (Policy Formulation), Review (Issue Identification)

Lincoln Ventures, Landcare Research, 2011. AquiferSim User Documentation. IRAP Integrated Research for Aquifer Protection.

Support No formal support. Developers willing to support users.

Technical Considerations

Programming Language AquiferSim is a .NET2 console application (written in Visual C#) that can run as a plug-in tool in ESRI ArcView Desktop 10.0 (or ArcInfo) and Spatial Analyst.
Analytical Techniques Input/output, GIS
Keywords Nitrate, groundwater, land use
Key References

Bidwell and Good, 2007. "Development of the AquiferSim model of cumulative effect on groundwater of nitrate discharge from heterogenous land use over large regions. Conference paper:

Bidwell et al 2009 Nitrate discharge to groundwater from agricultural land use: an initial assessment for the Canterbury Plains

Lilburne, L., Bright, J., Francis, G., Close, M., Bidwell, V., Snow, V., Thorrold, B., Crisley, K., Smith, V., 2006. The IRAP Project: Predictive farm- and regional-scale tools for assessing land use impacts on groundwater quality. Occasional report No. 19 of the Fertiliser and Lime Research Centre, Palmerston North, New Zealand, 440-444.

Bidwell, V.J., Lilburne, L.R., Good, J.M., 2005. Strategy for developing GIS-based tools for management of the effects on groundwater of nitrate leaching from agricultural land use. In: MODSIM 2005: International Congress on Modelling and Simulation, December 2005, Modelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand.


Associated Case Studies

AquiferSim - Mataura Valley, Southland

The report was prepared by Landcare Research, ESR and Lincoln Ventures for Environment Southland and builds upon some preliminary data preparation work (Envirolink grant 963-ESRC147).


Other Key Case Studies

Hurunui Catchment (Canterbury):  Lilburne, L., Elliott, S., Bidwell, V., Shankar, U., Kelly, D., Hanson, C., 2011. Hurunui catchment-scale land use and water quality modelling report. Prepared for Environment Canterbury, Report No. R11/15.

Mataura Catchment (Southland): Lilburne, L., Moore, C., Bidwell, V. and Burbery, L., 2012. AquiferSim modelling of the mid-Mataura Valley. Envirolink 1004-ESRC238, Prepared by Landcare Research for Environment Southland.