Hydrology (from Greek: ὕδωρ, "hýdōr" meaning "water" and λόγος, "lógos" meaning "study") is the scientific study of the movement, distribution and management of water on Earth and other planets, including the water cycle, water resources and environmental watershed sustainability. A practitioner of hydrology is called a "hydrologic engineer", working within the fields of civil and environmental engineering, earth or environmental science and physical geography.  Using various analytical methods and scientific techniques, they collect and analyze data to help solve water related problems such as environmental preservation, natural disasters, and water management.
Hydrology subdivides into surface water hydrology, groundwater hydrology (hydrogeology), and marine hydrology. Domains of hydrology include hydrometeorology, surface hydrology, hydrogeology, drainage-basin management and water quality, where water plays the central role.
Hydrology has been a subject of investigation and engineering for millennia. For example, about 4000 BC the Nile was dammed to improve agricultural productivity of previously barren lands. Mesopotamian towns were protected from flooding with high earthen walls. Aqueducts were built by the Greeks and Ancient Romans, while the history of China shows they built irrigation and flood control works. The ancient Sinhalese used hydrology to build complex irrigation works in Sri Lanka, also known for invention of the Valve Pit which allowed construction of large reservoirs, anicuts and canals which still function.
Marcus Vitruvius, in the first century BC, described a philosophical theory of the hydrologic cycle, in which precipitation falling in the mountains infiltrated the Earth's surface and led to streams and springs in the lowlands. With the adoption of a more scientific approach, Leonardo da Vinci and Bernard Palissy independently reached an accurate representation of the hydrologic cycle. It was not until the 17th century that hydrologic variables began to be quantified.
Pioneers of the modern science of hydrology include Pierre Perrault, Edme Mariotte and Edmund Halley. By measuring rainfall, runoff, and drainage area, Perrault showed that rainfall was sufficient to account for the flow of the Seine. Mariotte combined velocity and river cross-section measurements to obtain a discharge, again in the Seine. Halley showed that the evaporation from the Mediterranean Sea was sufficient to account for the outflow of rivers flowing into the sea.
Advances in the 18th century included the Bernoulli piezometer and Bernoulli's equation, by Daniel Bernoulli, and the Pitot tube, by Henri Pitot. The 19th century saw development in groundwater hydrology, including Darcy's law, the Dupuit-Thiem well formula, and Hagen-Poiseuille's capillary flow equation.
Rational analyses began to replace empiricism in the 20th century, while governmental agencies began their own hydrological research programs. Of particular importance were Leroy Sherman's unit hydrograph, the infiltration theory of Robert E. Horton, and C.V. Theis's aquifer test/equation describing well hydraulics.
Since the 1950s, hydrology has been approached with a more theoretical basis than in the past, facilitated by advances in the physical understanding of hydrological processes and by the advent of computers and especially geographic information systems (GIS). (See also GIS and hydrology)
The central theme of hydrology is that water circulates throughout the Earth through different pathways and at different rates. The most vivid image of this is in the evaporation of water from the ocean, which forms clouds. These clouds drift over the land and produce rain. The rainwater flows into lakes, rivers, or aquifers. The water in lakes, rivers, and aquifers then either evaporates back to the atmosphere or eventually flows back to the ocean, completing a cycle. Water changes its state of being several times throughout this cycle.
The areas of research within hydrology concern the movement of water between its various states, or within a given state, or simply quantifying the amounts in these states in a given region. Parts of hydrology concern developing methods for directly measuring these flows or amounts of water, while others concern modeling these processes either for scientific knowledge or for making a prediction in practical applications.
Ground water is water beneath Earth's surface, often pumped for drinking water. Groundwater hydrology (hydrogeology) considers quantifying groundwater flow and solute transport. Problems in describing the saturated zone include the characterization of aquifers in terms of flow direction, groundwater pressure and, by inference, groundwater depth (see: aquifer test). Measurements here can be made using a piezometer. Aquifers are also described in terms of hydraulic conductivity, storativity and transmissivity. There are a number of geophysical methods for characterising aquifers. There are also problems in characterising the vadose zone (unsaturated zone).
Infiltration is the process by which water enters the soil. Some of the water is absorbed, and the rest percolates down to the water table. The infiltration capacity, the maximum rate at which the soil can absorb water, depends on several factors. The layer that is already saturated provides a resistance that is proportional to its thickness, while that plus the depth of water above the soil provides the driving force (hydraulic head). Dry soil can allow rapid infiltration by capillary action; this force diminishes as the soil becomes wet. Compaction reduces the porosity and the pore sizes. Surface cover increases capacity by retarding runoff, reducing compaction and other processes. Higher temperatures reduce viscosity, increasing infiltration.:250–275
Hydrology considers quantifying surface water flow and solute transport, although the treatment of flows in large rivers is sometimes considered as a distinct topic of hydraulics or hydrodynamics. Surface water flow can include flow both in recognizable river channels and otherwise. Methods for measuring flow once the water has reached a river include the stream gauge (see: discharge), and tracer techniques. Other topics include chemical transport as part of surface water, sediment transport and erosion.
One of the important areas of hydrology is the interchange between rivers and aquifers. Groundwater/surface water interactions in streams and aquifers can be complex and the direction of net water flux (into surface water or into the aquifer) may vary spatially along a stream channel and over time at any particular location, depending on the relationship between stream stage and groundwater levels.
In some considerations, hydrology is thought of as starting at the land-atmosphere boundary and so it is important to have adequate knowledge of both precipitation and evaporation. Precipitation can be measured in various ways: disdrometer for precipitation characteristics at a fine time scale; radar for cloud properties, rain rate estimation, hail and snow detection; rain gauge for routine accurate measurements of rain and snowfall; satellite for rainy area identification, rain rate estimation, land-cover/land-use, and soil moisture, for example.
Evaporation is an important part of the water cycle. It is partly affected by humidity, which can be measured by a sling psychrometer. It is also affected by the presence of snow, hail, and ice and can relate to dew, mist and fog. Hydrology considers evaporation of various forms: from water surfaces; as transpiration from plant surfaces in natural and agronomic ecosystems. Direct measurement of evaporation can be obtained using Simon's evaporation pan.
Detailed studies of evaporation involve boundary layer considerations as well as momentum, heat flux, and energy budgets.
Remote sensing of hydrologic processes can provide information on locations where in situ sensors may be unavailable or sparse. It also enables observations over large spatial extents. Many of the variables constituting the terrestrial water balance, for example surface water storage, soil moisture, precipitation, evapotranspiration, and snow and ice, are measurable using remote sensing at various spatial-temporal resolutions and accuracies. Sources of remote sensing include land-based sensors, airborne sensors and satellite sensors which can capture microwave, thermal and near-infrared data or use lidar, for example.
In hydrology, studies of water quality concern organic and inorganic compounds, and both dissolved and sediment material. In addition, water quality is affected by the interaction of dissolved oxygen with organic material and various chemical transformations that may take place. Measurements of water quality may involve either in-situ methods, in which analyses take place on-site, often automatically, and laboratory-based analyses and may include microbiological analysis.
Observations of hydrologic processes are used to make predictions of the future behavior of hydrologic systems (water flow, water quality). One of the major current concerns in hydrologic research is "Prediction in Ungauged Basins" (PUB), i.e. in basins where no or only very few data exist.
By analyzing the statistical properties of hydrologic records, such as rainfall or river flow, hydrologists can estimate future hydrologic phenomena. When making assessments of how often relatively rare events will occur, analyses are made in terms of the return period of such events. Other quantities of interest include the average flow in a river, in a year or by season.
These estimates are important for engineers and economists so that proper risk analysis can be performed to influence investment decisions in future infrastructure and to determine the yield reliability characteristics of water supply systems. Statistical information is utilized to formulate operating rules for large dams forming part of systems which include agricultural, industrial and residential demands.
Hydrological models are simplified, conceptual representations of a part of the hydrologic cycle. They are primarily used for hydrological prediction and for understanding hydrological processes, within the general field of scientific modeling. Two major types of hydrological models can be distinguished:
Recent research in hydrological modeling tries to have a more global approach to the understanding of the behavior of hydrologic systems to make better predictions and to face the major challenges in water resources management.
Water movement is a significant means by which other material, such as soil, gravel, boulders or pollutants, are transported from place to place. Initial input to receiving waters may arise from a point source discharge or a line source or area source, such as surface runoff. Since the 1960s rather complex mathematical models have been developed, facilitated by the availability of high-speed computers. The most common pollutant classes analyzed are nutrients, pesticides, total dissolved solids and sediment.
Brine is a high-concentration solution of salt in water. In different contexts, brine may refer to salt solutions ranging from about 3.5% (a typical concentration of seawater, on the lower end of solutions used for brining foods) up to about 26% (a typical saturated solution, depending on temperature). Lower levels of concentration are called by different names: fresh water, brackish water, and saline water.
Brine naturally occurs on the Earth's surface (salt lakes), crust, and within brine pools on ocean bottom. High-concentration brine lakes typically emerge due to evaporation of ground saline water on high ambient temperatures. Brine is used for food processing and cooking (pickling and brining), for de-icing of roads and other structures, and in a number of technological processes. It is also a by-product of many industrial processes, such as desalination, and may pose an environmental risk due to its corrosive and toxic effects, so it requires wastewater treatment for proper disposal or further utilization (fresh water recovery).Confluence
In geography, a confluence (also: conflux) occurs where two or more flowing bodies of water join together to form a single channel. A confluence can occur in several configurations: at the point where a tributary joins a larger river (main stem); or where two streams meet to become the source of a river of a new name (such as the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers at Pittsburgh, forming the Ohio); or where two separated channels of a river (forming a river island) rejoin at the downstream end.Current (stream)
A current, in a river or stream, is the flow of water influenced by gravity as the water moves downhill to reduce its potential energy. The current varies spatially as well as temporally within the stream, dependent upon the flow volume of water, stream gradient, and channel geometry. In tidal zones, the current in rivers and streams may reverse on the flood tide before resuming on the ebb tide.Discharge (hydrology)
In hydrology, discharge is the volumetric flow rate of water that is transported through a given cross-sectional area. It includes any suspended solids (e.g. sediment), dissolved chemicals (e.g. CaCO3(aq)), or biologic material (e.g. diatoms) in addition to the water itself.
Synonyms vary by discipline. For example, a fluvial hydrologist studying natural river systems may define discharge as streamflow, whereas an engineer operating a reservoir system might define discharge as outflow, which is contrasted with inflow.Drainage basin
A drainage basin is any area of land where precipitation collects and drains off into a common outlet, such as into a river, bay, or other body of water. The drainage basin includes all the surface water from rain runoff, snowmelt, and nearby streams that run downslope towards the shared outlet, as well as the groundwater underneath the earth's surface. Drainage basins connect into other drainage basins at lower elevations in a hierarchical pattern, with smaller sub-drainage basins, which in turn drain into another common outlet.Other terms used interchangeably with drainage basin are catchment area, catchment basin, drainage area, river basin, water basin, and impluvium. In North America, the term watershed is commonly used to mean a drainage basin, though in other English-speaking countries, it is used only in its original sense, that of a drainage divide.
In a closed drainage basin, or endorheic basin, the water converges to a single point inside the basin, known as a sink, which may be a permanent lake, a dry lake, or a point where surface water is lost underground.The drainage basin acts as a funnel by collecting all the water within the area covered by the basin and channelling it to a single point. Each drainage basin is separated topographically from adjacent basins by a perimeter, the drainage divide, making up a succession of higher geographical features (such as a ridge, hill or mountains) forming a barrier.
Drainage basins are similar but not identical to hydrologic units, which are drainage areas delineated so as to nest into a multi-level hierarchical drainage system. Hydrologic units are defined to allow multiple inlets, outlets, or sinks. In a strict sense, all drainage basins are hydrologic units but not all hydrologic units are drainage basins.Flood
A flood is an overflow of water that submerges land that is usually dry. In the sense of "flowing water", the word may also be applied to the inflow of the tide. Floods are an area of study of the discipline hydrology and are of significant concern in agriculture, civil engineering and public health.
Flooding may occur as an overflow of water from water bodies, such as a river, lake, or ocean, in which the water overtops or breaks levees, resulting in some of that water escaping its usual boundaries, or it may occur due to an accumulation of rainwater on saturated ground in an areal flood. While the size of a lake or other body of water will vary with seasonal changes in precipitation and snow melt, these changes in size are unlikely to be considered significant unless they flood property or drown domestic animals.
Floods can also occur in rivers when the flow rate exceeds the capacity of the river channel, particularly at bends or meanders in the waterway. Floods often cause damage to homes and businesses if they are in the natural flood plains of rivers. While riverine flood damage can be eliminated by moving away from rivers and other bodies of water, people have traditionally lived and worked by rivers because the land is usually flat and fertile and because rivers provide easy travel and access to commerce and industry.
Some floods develop slowly, while others can develop in just a few minutes and without visible signs of rain. Additionally, floods can be local, impacting a neighborhood or community, or very large, affecting entire river basins.Hydraulic head
Hydraulic head or piezometric head is a specific measurement of liquid pressure above a vertical datum.It is usually measured as a liquid surface elevation, expressed in units of length, at the entrance (or bottom) of a piezometer. In an aquifer, it can be calculated from the depth to water in a piezometric well (a specialized water well), and given information of the piezometer's elevation and screen depth. Hydraulic head can similarly be measured in a column of water using a standpipe piezometer by measuring the height of the water surface in the tube relative to a common datum. The hydraulic head can be used to determine a hydraulic gradient between two or more points.Hydrography
Hydrography is the branch of applied sciences which deals with the measurement and description of the physical features of oceans, seas, coastal areas, lakes and rivers, as well as with the prediction of their change over time, for the primary purpose of safety of navigation and in support of all other marine activities, including economic development, security and defence, scientific research, and environmental protection.Infiltration (hydrology)
Infiltration is the process by which water on the ground surface enters the soil. It is commonly used in both hydrology and soil sciences. The infiltration capacity is defined as the maximum rate of infiltration. It is most often measured in meters per day but can also be measured in other units of distance over time if necessary. The infiltration capacity decreases as the soil moisture content of soils surface layers increases. If the precipitation rate exceeds the infiltration rate, runoff will usually occur unless there is some physical barrier.
Infiltrometers, permeameters and rainfall simulators are all devices that can be used to measure infiltration rates.Infiltration is caused by multiple factors including; gravity, capillary forces, adsorption and osmosis. Many soil characteristics can also play a role in determining the rate at which infiltration occurs.Inflow (hydrology)
In hydrology, the inflow of a body of water is the source of the water in the body of water. It can also refer to the average volume of incoming water in unit time. It is contrasted with outflow.Main stem
In hydrology, a mainstem (or trunk) is "the primary downstream segment of a river, as contrasted to its tributaries". Water enters the mainstem from the river's drainage basin, the land area through which the mainstem and its tributaries flow. A drainage basin may also be referred to as a watershed or catchment.
Hydrological classification systems assign numbers to tributaries and mainstems within a drainage basin. In the Strahler number, a modification of a system devised by Robert E. Horton in 1945, channels with no tributaries are called "first-order" streams. When two first-order streams meet, they are said to form a second-order stream; when two second-order streams meet, they form a third-order stream, and so on. In the Horton system, the entire mainstem of a drainage basin was assigned the highest number in that basin. However, in the Strahler system, adopted in 1957, only that part of the mainstem below the tributary of the next highest rank gets the highest number.In the United States, the Mississippi River mainstem achieves a Strahler number of 10, the highest in the nation. Eight rivers, including the Columbia River, reach 9. Streams with no tributaries, assigned the Strahler number 1, are most common. More than 1.5 million of these small streams, with average drainage basins of only 1 square mile (2.6 km2), have been identified in the United States alone. Outside of the United States, the Amazon River reaches a Strahler number of 12, making it the highest-order river in the world.Moisture
Moisture is the presence of a liquid, especially water, often in trace amounts. Small amounts of water may be found, for example, in the air (humidity), in foods, and in various commercial products. Moisture also refers to the amount of water vapour present in the air.River mouth
A river mouth is the part of a river where the river debouches into another river, a lake, a reservoir, a sea, or an ocean.River source
The source, or headwaters, of a river or stream is the furthest place in that river or stream from its estuary or confluence with another river, as measured along the course of the river.Spring (hydrology)
A spring is a point at which water flows from an aquifer to the Earth's surface. It is a component of the hydrosphere.Stream
A stream is a body of water with surface water flowing within the bed and banks of a channel. The stream encompasses surface and groundwater fluxes that respond to geological, geomorphological, hydrological and biotic controls.Depending on its location or certain characteristics, a stream may be referred to by a variety of local or regional names. Long large streams are usually called rivers.
Streams are important as conduits in the water cycle, instruments in groundwater recharge, and corridors for fish and wildlife migration. The biological habitat in the immediate vicinity of a stream is called a riparian zone. Given the status of the ongoing Holocene extinction, streams play an important corridor role in connecting fragmented habitats and thus in conserving biodiversity. The study of streams and waterways in general is known as surface hydrology and is a core element of environmental geography.Surface runoff
Surface runoff (also known as overland flow) is the flow of water that occurs when excess stormwater, meltwater, or other sources flow over the Earth's surface. This can occur when the soil is saturated to full capacity, and rain arrives more quickly than soil can absorb it. Surface runoff often occurs because impervious areas (such as roofs and pavement) do not allow water to soak into the ground. Surface runoff is a major component of the water cycle. It is the primary agent of soil erosion by water. The land area producing runoff that drains to a common point is called a drainage basin.
Runoff that occurs on the ground surface before reaching a channel can be a nonpoint source of pollution, as it can carry man-made contaminants or natural forms of pollution (such as rotting leaves). Man-made contaminants in runoff include petroleum, pesticides, fertilizers and others.In addition to causing water erosion and pollution, surface runoff in urban areas is a primary cause of urban flooding, which can result in property damage, damp and mold in basements, and street flooding.Water quality
Water quality refers to the chemical, physical, biological, and radiological characteristics of water. It is a measure of the condition of water relative to the requirements of one or more biotic species and or to any human need or purpose. It is most frequently used by reference to a set of standards against which compliance, generally achieved through treatment of the water, can be assessed. The most common standards used to assess water quality relate to health of ecosystems, safety of human contact, and drinking water.Watercourse
A watercourse is the channel that a flowing body of water follows.In the UK, some aspects of criminal law, such as the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act 1951, specify that a watercourse includes those rivers which are dry for part of the year.In some jurisdictions, owners of land over which the water flows may have rights to some or much of the water in a legal sense. These include estuaries, rivers, streams, anabranches and canals. If it is navigable, it is also a "waterway".
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