Tuesday, April 24, 2007


100 Groundwater is water flowing within aquifers below the water table. Within aquifers, the water flows through the pore spaces in unconsolidated sediments and the fractures of rocks. Groundwater is recharged from, and ultimately flows to, the surface naturally; natural discharge often occurs at springs and seeps and can form oases or swamps. Groundwater is also often withdrawn for agricultural, municipal and industrial use through man-made wells. The study of the giving out and movement of groundwater is hydrogeology.

Relative groundwater travel times, click to view full size Groundwater can be a long-term 'reservoir' of the natural water cycle, as opposed to short-term water reservoirs like the atmosphere and fresh surface water. The figure shows how deep groundwater can take a very long time to complete its natural cycle. Groundwater is naturally replenished by surface water from precipitation, streams, and rivers when this recharge reaches the water table. It is estimated that the volume of groundwater is fifty times that of surface freshwater; the icecaps and glaciers are the only larger reservoir of fresh water on earth.

Usable groundwater is contained in aquifers, which are subterranean areas of permeable material that channel the groundwater's flow. Aquifers can be confined or unconfined. If a confined aquifer follows a downward grade from a recharge zone, groundwater can become pressurized as it flows. This can create artesian wells that flow freely without the need of a pump. The top of the upper unconfined aquifer is called the water table or paretic surface, where water pressure is equal to atmospheric pressure.

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