2.3.1.1 Background and context


Conceptual models are abstractions or simplifications of reality. A number of conceptual models are developed for a bioregional assessment (BA), including conceptual models for geology, groundwater and surface water, which underpin the numerical modelling. Another type of conceptual model is a conceptual model of causal pathways, which characterises the causal pathway, the chain of logic or activities ‒ either planned or unplanned ‒ that link coal resource development and potential impacts on water resources and water-dependent assets. The conceptual model of causal pathways brings together a number of conceptual models developed in a BA, and might be expressed in a variety of ways, with narrative, pictorial graphics, and influence diagrams all important. This product presents information about the conceptual model of causal pathways for the Clarence-Moreton bioregion, which was developed using the methods outlined in the companion submethodology M05 (as listed in Table 1) for developing a conceptual model of causal pathways (Henderson et al., 2016). The application to the Clarence-Moreton bioregion is described in Section 2.3.1.2, with more specific details found in the individual sections that follow.

The causal pathways play a critical role in focusing the BA on the most plausible and important hazards, defined as events, or chains of events, that might result in an effect (change in the quality and/or quantity of surface water or groundwater). The causal pathways associated with these hazards underpin the construction of groundwater and surface water models, and frame the assessment of the severity and likelihood of impacts to water-dependent assets. A water-dependent asset is an asset potentially impacted, either positively or negatively, by changes in the groundwater and/or surface water regime due to coal resource development. Some assets are solely dependent on incident rainfall and will not be considered as water dependent if evidence does not support a linkage to groundwater or surface water that may be impacted by coal resource development.

The construction of causal pathways requires the Assessment team to first synthesise and summarise the key system components, processes and interactions for the geology, hydrogeology and surface water of the bioregion (as presented in Section 2.3.2). Emphasising gaps and uncertainties is as important as summarising what is known about how various systems work.

Section 2.3.3 presents the development of a landscape classification, which aims to systematically simplify a complex system that contains a large number of assets identified by the community. The landscape classification describes the main biophysical and human ecosystems, and provides a high-level conceptualisation of the bioregion at the surface. Most assets are related to one or more landscape classes, which are defined for BA purposes as ecosystems with characteristics that are expected to respond similarly to changes in groundwater and/or surface water due to coal resource development. Landscape classes are present on the landscape across the entire bioregion and their spatial coverage is exhaustive and non-overlapping. Conceptually, landscape classes can be considered as types of ecosystem assets, which are ecosystems that may provide benefits to humanity (Bureau of Meteorology, 2013; United Nations et al., 2014).

Section 2.3.4 then defines two potential futures (Figure 3), namely the:

  • baseline coal resource development (baseline), a future that includes all coal mines and coal seam gas (CSG) fields that are commercially producing as of December 2012
  • coal resource development pathway (CRDP), a future that includes all coal mines and CSG fields that are in the baseline as well as those that are expected to begin commercial production after December 2012.

The difference in results between CRDP and baseline is the change that is primarily reported in a BA. This change is due to the additional coal resource development (ACRD) – all coal mines and CSG fields, including expansions of baseline operations that are expected to begin commercial production after December 2012.

Figure 4 illustrates this fundamental comparison of these futures, with the baseline in the top half of the figure and the CRDP in the bottom half of the figure. It demonstrates that in order to assess potential impact on assets, it is important to compare the changes of two types of variables at specific points in space and time:

  • hydrological response variables, the hydrological characteristics of the system that potentially change due to coal resource development (for example, drawdown (Figure 3) or the annual streamflow volume)
  • receptor impact variables, the ecological characteristics of the system that, according to the conceptual modelling, potentially change due to changes in hydrological response variables (for example, condition of breeding habitat for a given species, or biomass of river red gums).

Figure 3

Figure 3 Generic example of drawdown at a specific location over time for the baseline coal resource development (baseline) and coal resource development pathway (CRDP). The difference in drawdown between CRDP and baseline is due to the additional coal resource development (ACRD)

The lighter shades indicate the uncertainty in results. Model spin-up period is a warm-up period for the models.

Figure 4

Figure 4 The difference in results between the coal resource development pathway (CRDP) and the baseline coal resource development (baseline) provides the potential impacts due to the additional coal resource development (ACRD)

Figure 5

Figure 5 Hazard analysis using the Impact Modes and Effects Analysis. This figure shows how hazards identified using IMEA are linked to changes in hydrology and water-dependent assets via causal pathway

The italicised text is an example of a specified element in the Impact Modes and Effects Analysis. (a) In the simple case, an activity related to coal resource development directly causes a hydrological change which in turn causes an ecological change. The hazard is just the initial activity that directly leads to the effect (change in the quality and/or quantity of surface water or groundwater). (b) In the more complex case, an activity related to coal resource development initiates a chain of events. This chain of events, along with the stressor(s) (for example, surface water (SW) flow and total suspended solids (TSS)), causes a hydrological change which in turn causes an ecological change. The hazard is the initial activity plus the subsequent chain of events that lead to the effect.

Section 2.3.5 details the hazard analysis, using the Impact Modes and Effects Analysis (IMEA) method, as described in companion submethodology M11 (as listed in Table 1) for hazard analysis (Ford et al., 2016), and illustrated in Figure 5. Potential causal pathways for both baseline and CRDP are identified by considering:

  • activities – planned events associated with a CSG operation or coal mine. For example, activities during the exploration and appraisal life-cycle stage in a CSG operation include drilling and coring, ground-based geophysics and surface core testing. Activities are grouped into components, which are grouped into life-cycle stages
  • impact causes activities (or aspects of an activity) that initiate a hazardous chain of events
  • impact modes – the manner in which a hazardous chain of events (initiated by an impact cause) could result in an effect (change in the quality and/or quantity of surface water or groundwater). There might be multiple impact modes for each activity or chain of events
  • effects – changes in the quantity and/or quality of surface water or groundwater. An effect is a specific type of an impact (any change resulting from prior events).

This product only specifies the causal pathways from coal resource development to hydrological response variables (see Figure 4). For BAs undertaking receptor impact modelling, the subsequent causal pathways (from hydrological response variables to impacts on landscape classes and water-dependent assets) are reported in the companion product 2.7 (receptor impact modelling). The Clarence-Moreton bioregion will not have a product 2.7 (receptor impact modelling) or a product 3-4 (impact and risk analysis). These causal pathways are reported for only those landscape classes with potential hydrological changes, as reported in product 2.6.1 (surface water numerical modelling) and product 2.6.2 (groundwater numerical modelling).

Last updated:
11 July 2017
Thumbnail images of the Clarence-Moreton bioregion

Product Finalisation date

19 January 2017