An aquifer is an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock, rock fractures or unconsolidated materials (gravel, sand, or silt). Groundwater can be extracted using a water well. The study of water flow in aquifers and the characterization of aquifers is called hydrogeology. Related terms include aquitard, which is a bed of low permeability along an aquifer,[1] and aquiclude (or aquifuge), which is a solid, impermeable area underlying or overlying an aquifer. If the impermeable area overlies the aquifer, pressure could cause it to become a confined aquifer.

Aquifer en
Typical aquifer cross-section


Aquifers may occur at various depths. Those closer to the surface are not only more likely to be used for water supply and irrigation, but are also more likely to be topped up by the local rainfall. Many desert areas have limestone hills or mountains within them or close to them that can be exploited as groundwater resources. Part of the Atlas Mountains in North Africa, the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon ranges between Syria and Lebanon, the Jebel Akhdar in Oman, parts of the Sierra Nevada and neighboring ranges in the United States' Southwest, have shallow aquifers that are exploited for their water. Overexploitation can lead to the exceeding of the practical sustained yield; i.e., more water is taken out than can be replenished. Along the coastlines of certain countries, such as Libya and Israel, increased water usage associated with population growth has caused a lowering of the water table and the subsequent contamination of the groundwater with saltwater from the sea.

A beach provides a model to help visualize an aquifer. If a hole is dug into the sand, very wet or saturated sand will be located at a shallow depth. This hole is a crude well, the wet sand represents an aquifer, and the level to which the water rises in this hole represents the water table.

In 2013 large freshwater aquifers were discovered under continental shelves off Australia, China, North America and South Africa. They contain an estimated half a million cubic kilometers of "low salinity" water that could be economically processed into potable water. The reserves formed when ocean levels were lower and rainwater made its way into the ground in land areas that were not submerged until the ice age ended 20,000 years ago. The volume is estimated to be 100 times the amount of water extracted from other aquifers since 1900.[2][3]


The system shows two aquifers with one aquitard (a confining or impermeable layer) between them, surrounded by the bedrock aquiclude, which is in contact with a gaining stream (typical in humid regions). The water table and unsaturated zone are also illustrated.

An aquitard is a zone within the Earth that restricts the flow of groundwater from one aquifer to another. An aquitard can sometimes, if completely impermeable, be called an aquiclude or aquifuge. Aquitards are composed of layers of either clay or non-porous rock with low hydraulic conductivity.

Saturated versus unsaturated

Groundwater can be found at nearly every point in the Earth's shallow subsurface to some degree, although aquifers do not necessarily contain fresh water. The Earth's crust can be divided into two regions: the saturated zone or phreatic zone (e.g., aquifers, aquitards, etc.), where all available spaces are filled with water, and the unsaturated zone (also called the vadose zone), where there are still pockets of air that contain some water, but can be filled with more water.

Saturated means the pressure head of the water is greater than atmospheric pressure (it has a gauge pressure > 0). The definition of the water table is the surface where the pressure head is equal to atmospheric pressure (where gauge pressure = 0).

Unsaturated conditions occur above the water table where the pressure head is negative (absolute pressure can never be negative, but gauge pressure can) and the water that incompletely fills the pores of the aquifer material is under suction. The water content in the unsaturated zone is held in place by surface adhesive forces and it rises above the water table (the zero-gauge-pressure isobar) by capillary action to saturate a small zone above the phreatic surface (the capillary fringe) at less than atmospheric pressure. This is termed tension saturation and is not the same as saturation on a water-content basis. Water content in a capillary fringe decreases with increasing distance from the phreatic surface. The capillary head depends on soil pore size. In sandy soils with larger pores, the head will be less than in clay soils with very small pores. The normal capillary rise in a clayey soil is less than 1.8 m (6 ft) but can range between 0.3 and 10 m (1 and 33 ft).[4]

The capillary rise of water in a small-diameter tube involves the same physical process. The water table is the level to which water will rise in a large-diameter pipe (e.g., a well) that goes down into the aquifer and is open to the atmosphere.

Aquifers versus aquitards

Aquifers are typically saturated regions of the subsurface that produce an economically feasible quantity of water to a well or spring (e.g., sand and gravel or fractured bedrock often make good aquifer materials).

An aquitard is a zone within the Earth that restricts the flow of groundwater from one aquifer to another. A completely impermeable aquitard is called an aquiclude or aquifuge. Aquitards comprise layers of either clay or non-porous rock with low hydraulic conductivity.

In mountainous areas (or near rivers in mountainous areas), the main aquifers are typically unconsolidated alluvium, composed of mostly horizontal layers of materials deposited by water processes (rivers and streams), which in cross-section (looking at a two-dimensional slice of the aquifer) appear to be layers of alternating coarse and fine materials. Coarse materials, because of the high energy needed to move them, tend to be found nearer the source (mountain fronts or rivers), whereas the fine-grained material will make it farther from the source (to the flatter parts of the basin or overbank areas—sometimes called the pressure area). Since there are less fine-grained deposits near the source, this is a place where aquifers are often unconfined (sometimes called the forebay area), or in hydraulic communication with the land surface.

Confined versus unconfined

There are two end members in the spectrum of types of aquifers; confined and unconfined (with semi-confined being in between). Unconfined aquifers are sometimes also called water table or phreatic aquifers, because their upper boundary is the water table or phreatic surface. (See Biscayne Aquifer.) Typically (but not always) the shallowest aquifer at a given location is unconfined, meaning it does not have a confining layer (an aquitard or aquiclude) between it and the surface. The term "perched" refers to ground water accumulating above a low-permeability unit or strata, such as a clay layer. This term is generally used to refer to a small local area of ground water that occurs at an elevation higher than a regionally extensive aquifer. The difference between perched and unconfined aquifers is their size (perched is smaller). Confined aquifers are aquifers that are overlain by a confining layer, often made up of clay. The confining layer might offer some protection from surface contamination.

If the distinction between confined and unconfined is not clear geologically (i.e., if it is not known if a clear confining layer exists, or if the geology is more complex, e.g., a fractured bedrock aquifer), the value of storativity returned from an aquifer test can be used to determine it (although aquifer tests in unconfined aquifers should be interpreted differently than confined ones). Confined aquifers have very low storativity values (much less than 0.01, and as little as 105), which means that the aquifer is storing water using the mechanisms of aquifer matrix expansion and the compressibility of water, which typically are both quite small quantities. Unconfined aquifers have storativities (typically then called specific yield) greater than 0.01 (1% of bulk volume); they release water from storage by the mechanism of actually draining the pores of the aquifer, releasing relatively large amounts of water (up to the drainable porosity of the aquifer material, or the minimum volumetric water content).

Isotropic versus anisotropic

In isotropic aquifers or aquifer layers the hydraulic conductivity (K) is equal for flow in all directions, while in anisotropic conditions it differs, notably in horizontal (Kh) and vertical (Kv) sense.

Semi-confined aquifers with one or more aquitards work as an anisotropic system, even when the separate layers are isotropic, because the compound Kh and Kv values are different (see hydraulic transmissivity and hydraulic resistance).

When calculating flow to drains [5] or flow to wells [6] in an aquifer, the anisotropy is to be taken into account lest the resulting design of the drainage system may be faulty.

Porous versus karst

To properly manage an aquifer its properties must be understood. Many properties must be known to predict how an aquifer will respond to rainfall, drought, pumping, and contamination. Where and how much water enters the groundwater from rainfall and snowmelt? How fast and what direction does the groundwater travel? How much water leaves the ground as springs and evaporation? How much water can be sustainably pumped out? How quickly will a contamination incident reach a well or spring? Computer models can be used to test how accurately the understanding of the aquifer properties matches the actual aquifer performance.[7]:192-193, 233-237 Environmental regulations require sites with potential sources of contamination to demonstrate that the hydrology has been characterized.[7]:3


Water seep from sandstone in Hanging Garden SE Utah
Water in porous aquifers slowly seep through pore spaces between sand grains

Porous aquifers typically occur in sand and sandstone. Porous aquifer properties depend on the depositional sedimentary environment and later natural cementation of the sand grains. The environment where a sand body was deposited controls the orientation of the sand grains, the horizontal and vertical variations, and the distribution of shale layers. Even thin shale layers are important barriers to groundwater flow. All these factors affect the porosity and permeability of sandy aquifers.[8]:413 Sandy deposits formed in shallow marine environments and in windblown sand dune environments have moderate to high permeability while sandy deposits formed in river environments have low to moderate permeability.[8]:418 Rainfall and snowmelt enter the groundwater where the aquifer is near the surface. Groundwater flow directions can be determined from potentiometric surface maps of water levels in wells and springs. Aquifer tests and well tests can be used with Darcy's law flow equations to determine the ability of a porous aquifer to convey water.[7]:177-184 Analyzing this type of information over an area gives an indication how much water can be pumped without overdrafting and how contamination will travel.[7]:233 In porous aquifers groundwater flows as slow seepage in pores between sand grains. A groundwater flow rate of 1 foot per day (0.3 m/d) is considered to be a high rate for porous aquifers,[9] as illustrated by the water slowly seeping from sandstone in the accompanying image to the left.


Water in karst aquifers flows through open conduits where water flows as underground streams

Karst aquifers typically develop in limestone. Surface water containing natural carbonic acid moves down into small fissures in limestone. This carbonic acid gradually dissolves limestone thereby enlarging the fissures. The enlarged fissures allow a larger quantity of water to enter which leads to a progressive enlargement of openings. Abundant small openings store a large quantity of water. The larger openings create a conduit system that drains the aquifer to springs.[10] Characterization of karst aquifers requires field exploration to locate sinkholes, swallets, sinking streams, and springs in addition to studying geologic maps.[11]:4 Conventional hydrogeologic methods such as aquifer tests and potentiometric mapping are insufficient to characterize the complexity of karst aquifers. These conventional investigation methods need to be supplemented with dye traces, measurement of spring discharges, and analysis of water chemistry.[12] U.S. Geological Survey dye tracing has determined that conventional groundwater models that assume a uniform distribution of porosity are not applicable for karst aquifers.[13] Linear alignment of surface features such as straight stream segments and sinkholes develop along fracture traces. Locating a well in a fracture trace or intersection of fracture traces increases the likelihood to encounter good water production.[14] Voids in karst aquifers can be large enough to cause destructive collapse or subsidence of the ground surface that can create a catastrophic release of contaminants.[7]:3-4 Groundwater flow rate in karst aquifers is much more rapid than in porous aquifers as shown in the accompanying image to the left. For example in the Barton Springs Edwards aquifer, dye traces measured the karst groundwater flow rates from 0.5 to 7 miles per day (0.8 to 11.3 km/d).[15] The rapid groundwater flow rates make karst aquifers much more sensitive to groundwater contamination than porous aquifers.[11]:1

Groundwater in rock formations

Major US Aquifers by Rock Type
Map of major US aquifers by rock type

Groundwater may exist in underground rivers (e.g., caves where water flows freely underground). This may occur in eroded limestone areas known as karst topography, which make up only a small percentage of Earth's area. More usual is that the pore spaces of rocks in the subsurface are simply saturated with water—like a kitchen sponge—which can be pumped out for agricultural, industrial, or municipal uses.

If a rock unit of low porosity is highly fractured, it can also make a good aquifer (via fissure flow), provided the rock has a hydraulic conductivity sufficient to facilitate movement of water. Porosity is important, but, alone, it does not determine a rock's ability to act as an aquifer. Areas of the Deccan Traps (a basaltic lava) in west central India are good examples of rock formations with high porosity but low permeability, which makes them poor aquifers. Similarly, the micro-porous (Upper Cretaceous) Chalk Group of south east England, although having a reasonably high porosity, has a low grain-to-grain permeability, with its good water-yielding characteristics mostly due to micro-fracturing and fissuring.

Human dependence on groundwater

Crops Kansas AST 20010624
Center-pivot irrigated fields in Kansas covering hundreds of square miles watered by the Ogallala Aquifer

Most land areas on Earth have some form of aquifer underlying them, sometimes at significant depths. In some cases, these aquifers are rapidly being depleted by the human population.

Fresh-water aquifers, especially those with limited recharge by snow or rain, also known as meteoric water, can be over-exploited and depending on the local hydrogeology, may draw in non-potable water or saltwater intrusion from hydraulically connected aquifers or surface water bodies. This can be a serious problem, especially in coastal areas and other areas where aquifer pumping is excessive. In some areas, the ground water can become contaminated by arsenic and other mineral poisons.

Aquifers are critically important in human habitation and agriculture. Deep aquifers in arid areas have long been water sources for irrigation (see Ogallala below). Many villages and even large cities draw their water supply from wells in aquifers.

Municipal, irrigation, and industrial water supplies are provided through large wells. Multiple wells for one water supply source are termed "wellfields", which may withdraw water from confined or unconfined aquifers. Using ground water from deep, confined aquifers provides more protection from surface water contamination. Some wells, termed "collector wells", are specifically designed to induce infiltration of surface (usually river) water.

Aquifers that provide sustainable fresh groundwater to urban areas and for agricultural irrigation are typically close to the ground surface (within a couple of hundred metres) and have some recharge by fresh water. This recharge is typically from rivers or meteoric water (precipitation) that percolates into the aquifer through overlying unsaturated materials.

Occasionally, sedimentary or "fossil" aquifers are used to provide irrigation and drinking water to urban areas. In Libya, for example, Muammar Gaddafi's Great Manmade River project has pumped large amounts of groundwater from aquifers beneath the Sahara to populous areas near the coast.[16] Though this has saved Libya money over the alternative, desalination, the aquifers are likely to run dry in 60 to 100 years.[16] Aquifer depletion has been cited as one of the causes of the food price rises of 2011.[17]


In unconsolidated aquifers, groundwater is produced from pore spaces between particles of gravel, sand, and silt. If the aquifer is confined by low-permeability layers, the reduced water pressure in the sand and gravel causes slow drainage of water from the adjoining confining layers. If these confining layers are composed of compressible silt or clay, the loss of water to the aquifer reduces the water pressure in the confining layer, causing it to compress from the weight of overlying geologic materials. In severe cases, this compression can be observed on the ground surface as subsidence. Unfortunately, much of the subsidence from groundwater extraction is permanent (elastic rebound is small). Thus, the subsidence is not only permanent, but the compressed aquifer has a permanently reduced capacity to hold water.

Saltwater intrusion

Aquifers near the coast have a lens of freshwater near the surface and denser seawater under freshwater. Seawater penetrates the aquifer diffusing in from the ocean and is denser than freshwater. For porous (i.e., sandy) aquifers near the coast, the thickness of freshwater atop saltwater is about 12 metres (40 ft) for every 0.3 m (1 ft) of freshwater head above sea level. This relationship is called the Ghyben-Herzberg equation. If too much ground water is pumped near the coast, salt-water may intrude into freshwater aquifers causing contamination of potable freshwater supplies. Many coastal aquifers, such as the Biscayne Aquifer near Miami and the New Jersey Coastal Plain aquifer, have problems with saltwater intrusion as a result of overpumping and sea level rise.


Diagram of a water balance of the aquifer

Aquifers in surface irrigated areas in semi-arid zones with reuse of the unavoidable irrigation water losses percolating down into the underground by supplemental irrigation from wells run the risk of salination.[18]

Surface irrigation water normally contains salts in the order of 0.5 g/L or more and the annual irrigation requirement is in the order of 10,000 m3/ha or more so the annual import of salt is in the order of 5,000 kg/ha or more.[19]

Under the influence of continuous evaporation, the salt concentration of the aquifer water may increase continually and eventually cause an environmental problem.

For salinity control in such a case, annually an amount of drainage water is to be discharged from the aquifer by means of a subsurface drainage system and disposed of through a safe outlet. The drainage system may be horizontal (i.e. using pipes, tile drains or ditches) or vertical (drainage by wells). To estimate the drainage requirement, the use of a groundwater model with an agro-hydro-salinity component may be instrumental, e.g. SahysMod.


The Great Artesian Basin situated in Australia is arguably the largest groundwater aquifer in the world[20] (over 1.7 million km2 or 0.66 million sq mi). It plays a large part in water supplies for Queensland and remote parts of South Australia.

The Guarani Aquifer, located beneath the surface of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, is one of the world's largest aquifer systems and is an important source of fresh water.[21] Named after the Guarani people, it covers 1,200,000 km2 (460,000 sq mi), with a volume of about 40,000 km3 (9,600 cu mi), a thickness of between 50 and 800 m (160 and 2,620 ft) and a maximum depth of about 1,800 m (5,900 ft).

Aquifer depletion is a problem in some areas, and is especially critical in northern Africa, for example the Great Manmade River project of Libya. However, new methods of groundwater management such as artificial recharge and injection of surface waters during seasonal wet periods has extended the life of many freshwater aquifers, especially in the United States.

The Ogallala Aquifer of the central United States is one of the world's great aquifers, but in places it is being rapidly depleted by growing municipal use, and continuing agricultural use. This huge aquifer, which underlies portions of eight states, contains primarily fossil water from the time of the last glaciation. Annual recharge, in the more arid parts of the aquifer, is estimated to total only about 10 percent of annual withdrawals. According to a 2013 report by research hydrologist Leonard F. Konikow[22] at the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the depletion between 2001–2008, inclusive, is about 32 percent of the cumulative depletion during the entire 20th century (Konikow 2013:22)."[22] In the United States, the biggest users of water from aquifers include agricultural irrigation and oil and coal extraction.[23] "Cumulative total groundwater depletion in the United States accelerated in the late 1940s and continued at an almost steady linear rate through the end of the century. In addition to widely recognized environmental consequences, groundwater depletion also adversely impacts the long-term sustainability of groundwater supplies to help meet the Nation’s water needs."[22]

An example of a significant and sustainable carbonate aquifer is the Edwards Aquifer[24] in central Texas. This carbonate aquifer has historically been providing high quality water for nearly 2 million people, and even today, is full because of tremendous recharge from a number of area streams, rivers and lakes. The primary risk to this resource is human development over the recharge areas.

Discontinuous sand bodies at the base of the McMurray Formation in the Athabasca Oil Sands region of northeastern Alberta, Canada, are commonly referred to as the Basal Water Sand (BWS) aquifers.[25] Saturated with water, they are confined beneath impermeable bitumen-saturated sands that are exploited to recover bitumen for synthetic crude oil production. Where they are deep-lying and recharge occurs from underlying Devonian formations they are saline, and where they are shallow and recharged by meteoric water they are non-saline. The BWS typically pose problems for the recovery of bitumen, whether by open-pit mining or by in situ methods such as steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), and in some areas they are targets for waste-water injection.[26][27][28]

See also

  • Portal-puzzle.svg Aquifers portal


  1. ^ "aquitard: Definition from". Archived from the original on 29 September 2010. Retrieved 6 September 2010.
  2. ^ "Huge reserves of freshwater lie beneath the ocean floor". 11 December 2013. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
  3. ^ Post, V. E. A.; Groen, J.; Kooi, H.; Person, M.; Ge, S.; Edmunds, W. M. (2013). "Offshore fresh groundwater reserves as a global phenomenon". Nature. 504 (7478): 71–78. doi:10.1038/nature12858. PMID 24305150.
  4. ^ "Morphological Features of Soil Wetness". Archived from the original on 9 August 2010. Retrieved 6 September 2010.
  5. ^ The energy balance of groundwater flow applied to subsurface drainage in anisotropic soils by pipes or ditches with entrance resistance. International Institute for Land Reclamation and Improvement (ILRI), Wageningen, The Netherlands. On line : [1] . Paper based on: R.J. Oosterbaan, J. Boonstra and K.V.G.K. Rao, 1996, “The energy balance of groundwater flow”. Published in V.P.Singh and B.Kumar (eds.), Subsurface-Water Hydrology, pp. 153–60, Vol. 2 of Proceedings of the International Conference on Hydrology and Water Resources, New Delhi, India, 1993. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands. ISBN 978-0-7923-3651-8 . On line : [2] . The corresponding "EnDrain" software can be downloaded from : [3], or from : [4]
  6. ^ ILRI (2000), Subsurface drainage by (tube)wells: Well spacing equations for fully and partially penetrating wells in uniform or layered aquifers with or without anisotropy and entrance resistance, 9 pp. Principles used in the "WellDrain" model. International Institute for Land Reclamation and Improvement (ILRI), Wageningen, The Netherlands. On line : [5] . Download "WellDrain" software from : [6], or from : [7]
  7. ^ a b c d e Assaad, Fakhry; LaMoreaux, Philip; Hughes, Travis (2004). Field methods for geologists and hydrogeologists. Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. doi:10.1007/978-3-662-05438-3. ISBN 3-540-40882-7.
  8. ^ a b Pettijohn, Francis; Potter, Paul; Siever, Raymond (1987). Sand and Sandstone. New York: Springer Science+Business Media. doi:10.1007/978-1-4612-1066-5. ISBN 978-0-387-96350-1.
  9. ^ Alley, William; Reilly, Thomas; Franke, O. (1999). Sustainability of ground-water resources (PDF). Circular 1186. Denver, Colorado: U.S. Geological Survey. p. 8. doi:10.3133/cir1186. ISBN 0-607-93040-3.
  10. ^ Dreybrodt, Wolfgang (1988). Processes in karst systems: physics, chemistry, and geology. Berlin: Springer. pp. 2–3. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-83352-6. ISBN 978-3-642-83354-0.
  11. ^ a b Taylor, Charles (1997). Delineation of ground-water basins and recharge areas for municipal water-supply springs in a karst aquifer system in the Elizabethtown area, Northern Kentucky (PDF). Water-Resources Investigations Report 96-4254. Denver, Colorado: U.S. Geological Survey. doi:10.3133/wri964254.
  12. ^ Taylor, Charles; Greene, Earl (2008). "Hydrogeologic characterization and methods used in the investigation of karst hydrology." (PDF). Field Techniques for Estimating Water Fluxes Between Surface Water and Ground Water. Techniques and Methods 4–D2. U.S. Geological Survey. p. 107.
  13. ^ Renken, R.; Cunningham, K.; Zygnerski, M.; Wacker, M.; Shapiro, A.; Harvey, R.; Metge, D.; Osborn, C.; Ryan, J. (November 2005). "Assessing the Vulnerability of a Municipal Well Field to Contamination in a Karst Aquifer". Environmental and Engineering Geoscience. GeoScienceWorld. 11 (4): 320. doi:10.2113/11.4.319.
  14. ^ Fetter, Charles (1988). Applied Hydrology. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill. pp. 294–295. ISBN 0-675-20887-4.
  15. ^ Scanlon, Bridget; Mace, Robert; Barrett, Michael; Smith, Brian (2003). "Can we simulate regional groundwater flow in a karst system using equivalent porous media models? Case study, Barton Springs Edwards aquifer, USA". Journal of Hydrology. Elsevier Science. 276: 142. doi:10.1016/S0022-1694(03)00064-7.
  16. ^ a b Scholl, Adam. "Map Room: Hidden Waters". World Policy journal. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  17. ^ Brown, Lester. "The Great Food Crisis of 2011." Foreign Policy Magazine, 10 January 2011.
  18. ^ ILRI (1989), Effectiveness and Social/Environmental Impacts of Irrigation Projects: a Review (PDF), In: Annual Report 1988 of the International Institute for Land Reclamation and Improvement (ILRI), Wageningen, The Netherlands, pp. 18–34
  19. ^ ILRI (2003), Drainage for Agriculture: Drainage and hydrology/salinity - water and salt balances. Lecture notes International Course on Land Drainage, International Institute for Land Reclamation and Improvement (ILRI), Wageningen, The Netherlands. Download from : [8], or directly as PDF : [9]
  20. ^ "The Great Artesian Basin" (PDF). Facts: Water Series. Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Water. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 November 2006. Retrieved 3 January 2007.
  21. ^ Brittain, John (22 June 2015). "The International Atomic Energy Agency: Linking Nuclear Science and Diplomacy". Science and Diplomacy.
  22. ^ a b c Konikow, Leonard F. Groundwater Depletion in the United States (1900–2008) (PDF) (Report). Scientific Investigations Report. Reston, VA: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey. p. 63.
  23. ^ Zabarenko, Deborah (20 May 2013). "Drop in U.S. underground water levels has accelerated: USGS". Washington, DC: Reuters.
  24. ^ "Edwards Aquifer Authority". Retrieved 15 December 2013.
  25. ^ Joslyn North Mine Project: Environmental Impact Assessment Hydrologeology (PDF) (Report). Edmonton, Alberta: Deer Creek Energy. December 2005. p. 4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 December 2013.
  26. ^ Barson, D., Bachu, S. and Esslinger, P. 2001. Flow systems in the Mannville Group in the east-central Athabasca area and implications for steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) operations for in situ bitumen production. Bulletin of Canadian Petroleum Geology, vol. 49, no. 3, pp. 376–92.
  27. ^ Griffiths, Mary; Woynillowicz, Dan (April 2003). Oil and Troubled Waters: Reducing the impact of the oil and gas industry on Alberta’s water resources (PDF) (Report). Edmonton, Alberta: Pembina Institute.
  28. ^ FMFN (June 2012). Fort McKay’s Review of Teck Resources Ltd. – Frontier Oil Sands Mine Project Integrated Application (PDF) (Report). Fort McKay First Nation.

External links

Aquifer storage and recovery

Aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) is the direct injection of surface water supplies such as potable water, reclaimed water, or river water into an aquifer for later recovery and use. ASR has been done for municipal, industry and agriculture use.

Artesian aquifer

See Great Artesian Basin for the water source in Australia.

An aquifer is a geologic layer of porous and permeable material such as sand and gravel, limestone, or sandstone, through which water flows and is stored. An artesian aquifer is a confined aquifer containing groundwater under positive pressure. An artesian aquifer is trapped water, surrounded by layers of impermeable rocks or clay, which applies positive pressure to the water contained within the aquifer. If a well were to be sunk into an artesian aquifer, water in the well-pipe would rise to a height corresponding to the point where hydrostatic equilibrium had been reached.

A well drilled into such an aquifer is called an artesian well. If water reaches the ground surface under the natural pressure of the aquifer, the well is termed a flowing artesian well.Fossil water aquifers can also be artesian if they are under sufficient pressure from the surrounding rocks, similarly to how many newly tapped oil wells are pressurized.

From the previous statement, it can be inferred that not all aquifers are artesian (i.e. water table aquifers occur where the groundwater level at the top of the aquifer is at equilibrium with atmospheric pressure). The recharging of aquifers happens when the water table at its recharge zone is at a higher elevation than the head of the well.

Artesian wells were named after the former province of Artois in France, where many artesian wells were drilled by Carthusian monks from 1126.

Barton Springs

Barton Springs is a set of four natural water springs located at Barton Creek on the grounds of Zilker Park in Austin, Texas, resulting from water flowing through the Edwards Aquifer. The largest spring, Main Barton Spring (also known as Parthenia, "the mother spring") supplies water to Barton Springs Pool, a popular recreational destination in Austin. The smaller springs are located nearby, two with man-made structures built to contain and direct their flow. The springs are the only known habitat of the Barton Springs Salamander, an endangered species.The Barton Creek National Archeological and Historic District was formed in 1985.

Biscayne Aquifer

The Biscayne Aquifer, named after Biscayne Bay, is a surficial aquifer. It is a shallow layer of highly permeable limestone under a portion of South Florida. The area it underlies includes Broward County, Miami-Dade County, Monroe County, and Palm Beach County, a total of about 4,000 square miles (10,000 km2).

Edwards Aquifer

The Edwards Aquifer is one of the most prolific artesian aquifers in the world. Located on the eastern edge of the Edwards Plateau in the U.S. state of Texas, it is the source of drinking water for two million people, and is the primary water supply for agriculture and industry in the aquifer’s region. In addition, the Edwards Aquifer feeds the Comal and San Marcos springs, provides springflow for recreational and downstream uses in the Nueces, San Antonio, Guadalupe, and San Marcos river basins, and is home to several unique and endangered species.

Floridan aquifer

The Floridan aquifer system, composed of the Upper and Lower Floridan aquifers, is a thick sequence of Paleogene carbonate rock which spans an area of about 100,000 square miles (260,000 km2) in the southeastern United States. It underlies the entire state of Florida and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina.The Floridan aquifer system is one of the world's most productive aquifers and supplies drinking water for nearly 10 million people. According to the United States Geological Survey, total withdrawals from the Floridan aquifer system in 2000 were ranked 5th highest of all principle aquifers in the Nation at 3,640 million gallons per day (Mgal/d). Of the total, 49% (1,949 Mgal/d) was used for irrigation, 33% (1,329 Mgal/d) was used for public water supply, 14% (576 Mgal/d) was used for industrial purposes, and 4% (166 Mgal/d) was used for domestic self-supply.The Floridan aquifer system is the primary source of drinking water for most cities in central and northern Florida as well as eastern and southern Georgia, including Brunswick, Savannah, and Valdosta.

Fossil water

Fossil water or paleowater is an ancient body of water that has been contained in some undisturbed space, typically groundwater in an aquifer, for millennia. Other types of fossil water can include subglacial lakes, such as Antarctica's Lake Vostok, and even ancient water on other planets.

UNESCO defines fossil groundwater as

water that infiltrated usually millennia ago and often under climatic conditions different from the present, and that has been stored underground since that time.

Determining the time since water infiltrated usually involves analyzing isotopic signatures. Determining "fossil" status—whether or not that particular water has occupied that particular space since the distant past—involves modeling the flow, recharge, and losses of aquifers, which can involve significant uncertainty. Some aquifers are hundreds of meters deep and underlie vast areas of land. Research techniques in the field are developing quickly and the scientific knowledge base is growing. In the cases of many aquifers, research is lacking or disputed as to the age of the water and the behavior of the water inside the aquifer.

Geography of Iowa

This article is about the geography of the State of Iowa. For the study of buried human cultural remains in Iowa, see Archaeology of Iowa.

The geography of Iowa includes the study of bedrock, landforms, rivers, geology, paleontology and urbanisation of the U.S. state of Iowa. The state covers an area of 56,272.81 sq mi (145,746 km2).


Groundwater is the water present beneath Earth's surface in soil pore spaces and in the fractures of rock formations. A unit of rock or an unconsolidated deposit is called an aquifer when it can yield a usable quantity of water. The depth at which soil pore spaces or fractures and voids in rock become completely saturated with water is called the water table. Groundwater is recharged from and eventually flows to the surface naturally; natural discharge often occurs at springs and seeps, and can form oases or wetlands. Groundwater is also often withdrawn for agricultural, municipal, and industrial use by constructing and operating extraction wells. The study of the distribution and movement of groundwater is hydrogeology, also called groundwater hydrology.

Typically, groundwater is thought of as water flowing through shallow aquifers, but, in the technical sense, it can also contain soil moisture, permafrost (frozen soil), immobile water in very low permeability bedrock, and deep geothermal or oil formation water. Groundwater is hypothesized to provide lubrication that can possibly influence the movement of faults. It is likely that much of Earth's subsurface contains some water, which may be mixed with other fluids in some instances. Groundwater may not be confined only to Earth. The formation of some of the landforms observed on Mars may have been influenced by groundwater. There is also evidence that liquid water may also exist in the subsurface of Jupiter's moon Europa.Groundwater is often cheaper, more convenient and less vulnerable to pollution than surface water. Therefore, it is commonly used for public water supplies. For example, groundwater provides the largest source of usable water storage in the United States, and California annually withdraws the largest amount of groundwater of all the states. Underground reservoirs contain far more water than the capacity of all surface reservoirs and lakes in the US, including the Great Lakes. Many municipal water supplies are derived solely from groundwater.Polluted groundwater is less visible and more difficult to clean up than pollution in rivers and lakes. Groundwater pollution most often results from improper disposal of wastes on land. Major sources include industrial and household chemicals and garbage landfills, excessive fertilizers and pesticides used in agriculture, industrial waste lagoons, tailings and process wastewater from mines, industrial fracking, oil field brine pits, leaking underground oil storage tanks and pipelines, sewage sludge and septic systems.

Groundwater pollution

Groundwater pollution (also called groundwater contamination) occurs when pollutants are released to the ground and make their way down into groundwater. This type of water pollution can also occur naturally due to the presence of a minor and unwanted constituent, contaminant or impurity in the groundwater, in which case it is more likely referred to as contamination rather than pollution.

The pollutant often creates a contaminant plume within an aquifer. Movement of water and dispersion within the aquifer spreads the pollutant over a wider area. Its advancing boundary, often called a plume edge, can intersect with groundwater wells or daylight into surface water such as seeps and springs, making the water supplies unsafe for humans and wildlife. The movement of the plume, called a plume front, may be analyzed through a hydrological transport model or groundwater model. Analysis of groundwater pollution may focus on soil characteristics and site geology, hydrogeology, hydrology, and the nature of the contaminants.

Pollution can occur from on-site sanitation systems, landfills, effluent from wastewater treatment plants, leaking sewers, petrol filling stations or from over application of fertilizers in agriculture. Pollution (or contamination) can also occur from naturally occurring contaminants, such as arsenic or fluoride. Using polluted groundwater causes hazards to public health through poisoning or the spread of disease.

Different mechanisms have influence on the transport of pollutants, e.g. diffusion, adsorption, precipitation, decay, in the groundwater. The interaction of groundwater contamination with surface waters is analyzed by use of hydrology transport models.

Groundwater recharge

Groundwater recharge or deep drainage or deep percolation is a hydrologic process where water moves downward from surface water to groundwater. Recharge is the primary method through which water enters an aquifer. This process usually occurs in the vadose zone below plant roots and is often expressed as a flux to the water table surface. Groundwater recharge also encompasses water moving away from the water table farther into the saturated zone. Recharge occurs both naturally (through the water cycle) and through anthropogenic processes (i.e., "artificial groundwater recharge"), where rainwater and or reclaimed water is routed to the subsurface.

Gypsey Race

The Gypsey Race is a winterbourne stream that runs through the villages of West Lutton, East Lutton, Helperthorpe, Weaverthorpe, Butterwick, Foxholes, Wold Newton, Burton Fleming, Rudston and Boynton. The stream flows into the North Sea in Bridlington harbour. It is the most northerly of the Yorkshire chalk streams.The Gypsey Race rises in the Great Wold Valley through a series of springs and flows intermittently between Duggleby and West Lutton where it runs underground in the chalk aquifer before re-surfacing in Rudston. It has been known during very wet conditions for the stream to re-appear at Wold Newton some 4.3 miles (7 km) north west of Rudston. Water from the aquifer running between West Lutton and Wold Newton also heads south to re-appear at Elmswell feeding West Beck and the River Hull.According to folklore, when the Gypsey Race is flowing in flood (The Woe Waters), bad fortune is at hand. It was in flood in the year before the great plague of 1664, the restoration of Charles II (1660) and the landing of William of Orange (1688), before the two world wars and the bad winters of 1947 and 1962.The stream also badly flooded the village of Burton Fleming in 2012 when the water was 2 feet (0.61 m) deep in places.Villagers in Boynton have an annual duck race on the stream in May. Hundreds of yellow plastic ducks are paid for and race the Race in aid of funds for the village hall.


Hydrogeology (hydro- meaning water, and -geology meaning the study of the Earth) is the area of geology that deals with the distribution and movement of groundwater in the soil and rocks of the Earth's crust (commonly in aquifers). The terms groundwater hydrology, geohydrology, and hydrogeology are often used interchangeably.

Groundwater engineering, another name for hydrogeology, is a branch of engineering which is concerned with groundwater movement and design of wells, pumps, and drains. The main concerns in groundwater engineering include groundwater contamination, conservation of supplies, and water quality.Wells are constructed for use in developing nations, as well as for use in developed nations in places which are not connected to a city water system. Wells must be designed and maintained to uphold the integrity of the aquifer, and to prevent contaminants from reaching the groundwater. Controversy arises in the use of groundwater when its usage impacts surface water systems, or when human activity threatens the integrity of the local aquifer system.

Ogallala Aquifer

The Ogallala Aquifer is a shallow water table aquifer surrounded by sand, silt, clay, and gravel located beneath the Great Plains in the United States. One of the world's largest aquifers, it underlies an area of approximately 174,000 sq mi (450,000 km2) in portions of eight states (South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas). It was named in 1898 by geologist N. H. Darton from its type locality near the town of Ogallala, Nebraska. The aquifer is part of the High Plains Aquifer System, and rests on the Ogallala Formation, which is the principal geologic unit underlying 80% of the High Plains.Large scale extraction for agricultural purposes started after World War II due partially to center pivot irrigation and to the adaptation of automotive engines for groundwater wells. Today about 27% of the irrigated land in the entire United States lies over the aquifer, which yields about 30% of the ground water used for irrigation in the United States. The aquifer is at risk for over-extraction and pollution. Since 1950, agricultural irrigation has reduced the saturated volume of the aquifer by an estimated 9%. Once depleted, the aquifer will take over 6,000 years to replenish naturally through rainfall.The aquifer system supplies drinking water to 82% of the 2.3 million people (1990 census) who live within the boundaries of the High Plains study area.


Overdrafting is the process of extracting groundwater beyond the equilibrium yield of the aquifer.

There are two sets of yields, safe yield and sustainable yield. Safe yield is the amount of water that can be taken out of the ground without there being any undesirable results. Sustainable yield is extraction that takes into account both recharge rate and surface water impacts

There are two types of aquifers. The first is confined aquifers, where the aquifer has an overbearing layer called aquitard, which contains materials that does not allow for penetration for groundwater extraction. The second is unconfined aquifers, where the aquifer does not have a aquitard over its layer and the groundwater is able to be penetrated for extraction. Extracting groundwater from unconfined aquifers is like borrowing the water, it has to be recharged at a proper amount. If recharge is not done so in proper amounts there can be many impacts. Recharge may happen through artificial recharge and natural recharge.Natural process of recharge is done through percolation of surface water. Artificial process of recharging the aquifer is through means of pumping reclaimed water from wastewater management projects directly into the aquifer. An example is the Orange County Water District in the State of California. This organization take waste water, treats it to a proper level, and then systematically pumps it back into the aquifers for artificial recharge.

When groundwater is extracted the water is primarily pulled from the aquifer which creates a cone depression around the well. When drafting of water continues the cone of depression increases in width. The increase in width leads to the negative impacts caused by overdrafting. Impacts include aiding in the drop of water table, land subsidence, and loss of surface water reaching the streams. In extream cases the supply of water to naturally recharge the aquifers is pulled directly from streams and rivers, leading to depletion of water levels in streams and rivers. The depletion of water in rivers and streams has an effect on not only the wildlife, but also humans who might be using the water for other purposes.Since every groundwater basin recharges at a different rate depending upon precipitation, vegetative cover and soil conservation practises, the quantity of groundwater that can be safely pumped varies greatly among regions of the world and even within provinces. Some aquifers require a very long time to recharge and thus the process of overdrafting can have consequences of effectively drying up certain sub-surface water supplies. Subsidence occurs when excessive groundwater is extracted from rocks that support more weight when saturated. This can lead to a capacity reduction in the aquifer.Groundwater is the fresh water that can be found underground; it is also one of the largest sources. Groundwater depletion can be comparable to ¨money in a bank¨, The primary cause of groundwater depletion is pumping or the excessive pulling up of groundwater from underground aquifers.

Specific storage

In the field of hydrogeology, storage properties are physical properties that characterize the capacity of an aquifer to release groundwater. These properties are Storativity (S), specific storage (Ss) and specific yield (Sy).

They are often determined using some combination of field tests (e.g., aquifer tests) and laboratory tests on aquifer material samples. Recently, these properties have been also determined using remote sensing data derived from Interferometric synthetic-aperture radar.

Upper Rhine Plain

The Upper Rhine Plain, Rhine Rift Valley or Upper Rhine Graben (German: Oberrheinische Tiefebene, Oberrheinisches Tiefland or Oberrheingraben, French: Vallée du Rhin) is a major rift, about 350-kilometre-long (220 mi) and on average 50-kilometre-wide (31 mi), between Basel in the south and the cities of Frankfurt/Wiesbaden in the north. Its southern section straddles the border between France and Germany. It forms part of the European Cenozoic Rift System, which extends across central Europe. The Upper Rhine Graben formed during the Oligocene as a response to the evolution of the Alps to the south and remains active to the present day. Today, the Rhine Rift Valley forms a downfaulted trough through which the river Rhine flows.

Water table

The water table is the upper surface of the zone of saturation. The zone of saturation is where the pores and fractures of the ground are saturated with water.The water table is the surface where the water pressure head is equal to the atmospheric pressure (where gauge pressure = 0). It may be visualized as the "surface" of the subsurface materials that are saturated with groundwater in a given vicinity.The groundwater may be from precipitation or from groundwater flowing into the aquifer. In areas with sufficient precipitation, water infiltrates through pore spaces in the soil, passing through the unsaturated zone. At increasing depths, water fills in more of the pore spaces in the soils, until a zone of saturation is reached. Below the water table, in the phreatic zone (zone of saturation), layers of permeable rock that yield groundwater are called aquifers. In less permeable soils, such as tight bedrock formations and historic lakebed deposits, the water table may be more difficult to define.

The water table should not be confused with the water level in a deeper well. If a deeper aquifer has a lower permeable unit that confines the upward flow, then the water level in this aquifer may rise to a level that is greater or less than the elevation of the actual water table. The elevation of the water in this deeper well is dependent upon the pressure in the deeper aquifer and is referred to as the potentiometric surface, not the water table.


A well is an excavation or structure created in the ground by digging, driving, or drilling to access liquid resources, usually water. The oldest and most common kind of well is a water well, to access groundwater in underground aquifers. The well water is drawn by a pump, or using containers, such as buckets, that are raised mechanically or by hand. Wells were first constructed at least eight thousand years ago and historically vary in construction from a simple scoop in the sediment of a dry watercourse to the qanats of Iran, and the stepwells and sakiehs of India. Placing a lining in the well shaft helps create stability, and linings of wood or wickerwork date back at least as far as the Iron Age.

Wells have traditionally been sunk by hand digging, as is the case in rural areas of the developing world. These wells are inexpensive and low-tech as they use mostly manual labour, and the structure can be lined with brick or stone as the excavation proceeds. A more modern method called caissoning uses pre-cast reinforced concrete well rings that are lowered into the hole. Driven wells can be created in unconsolidated material with a well hole structure, which consists of a hardened drive point and a screen of perforated pipe, after which a pump is installed to collect the water. Deeper wells can be excavated by hand drilling methods or machine drilling, using a bit in a borehole. Drilled wells are usually cased with a factory-made pipe composed of steel or plastic. Drilled wells can access water at much greater depths than dug wells.

Two broad classes of well are shallow or unconfined wells completed within the uppermost saturated aquifer at that location, and deep or confined wells, sunk through an impermeable stratum into an aquifer beneath. A collector well can be constructed adjacent to a freshwater lake or stream with water percolating through the intervening material. The site of a well can be selected by a hydrogeologist, or groundwater surveyor. Water may be pumped or hand drawn. Impurities from the surface can easily reach shallow sources and contamination of the supply by pathogens or chemical contaminants needs to be avoided. Well water typically contains more minerals in solution than surface water and may require treatment before being potable. Soil salination can occur as the water table falls and the surrounding soil begins to dry out. Another environmental problem is the potential for methane to seep into the water.

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