Aquifer

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Typical aquifer cross-section Aquifer en.svg
Typical aquifer cross-section

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.

Water chemical compound

Water is a transparent, tasteless, odorless, and nearly colorless chemical substance, which is the main constituent of Earth's streams, lakes, and oceans, and the fluids of most living organisms. It is vital for all known forms of life, even though it provides no calories or organic nutrients. Its chemical formula is H2O, meaning that each of its molecules contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms, connected by covalent bonds. Water is the name of the liquid state of H2O at standard ambient temperature and pressure. It forms precipitation in the form of rain and aerosols in the form of fog. Clouds are formed from suspended droplets of water and ice, its solid state. When finely divided, crystalline ice may precipitate in the form of snow. The gaseous state of water is steam or water vapor. Water moves continually through the water cycle of evaporation, transpiration (evapotranspiration), condensation, precipitation, and runoff, usually reaching the sea.

Permeability in fluid mechanics and the earth sciences is a measure of the ability of a porous material to allow fluids to pass through it.

Gravel mix of crumbled stone (grain size range = 2-63 mm according to ISO 14688)

Gravel is a loose aggregation of rock fragments. Gravel is classified by particle size range and includes size classes from granule- to boulder-sized fragments. In the Udden-Wentworth scale gravel is categorized into granular gravel and pebble gravel. ISO 14688 grades gravels as fine, medium, and coarse with ranges 2 mm to 6.3 mm to 20 mm to 63 mm. One cubic metre of gravel typically weighs about 1,800 kg.

Contents

Depth

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.

Groundwater water located beneath the ground surface

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.

Atlas Mountains mountain range across the northwestern stretch of Africa

The Atlas Mountains are a mountain range in the Maghreb. It stretches around 2,500 km (1,600 mi) through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. The range's highest peak is Toubkal, with an elevation of 4,167 metres (13,671 ft) in southwestern Morocco. It separates the Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines from the Sahara Desert. The Atlas mountains are primarily inhabited by Berber populations. The terms for 'mountain' in some Berber languages are adrar and adras, which are believed to be cognates of the toponym Atlas. The mountains are home to a number of animal and plants unique in Africa, often more like those of Europe; many of them are endangered and some have already gone extinct.

North Africa Northernmost region of Africa

North Africa is a region encompassing the northern portion of the African continent. There is no singularly accepted scope for the region, and it is sometimes defined as stretching from the Atlantic shores of Morocco in the west, to Egypt's Suez Canal and the Red Sea in the east. Others have limited it to the North West African countries of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, a region that was known by the French during colonial times as "Afrique du Nord" and is known by all Arabs as the Maghreb. The most commonly accepted definition includes Algeria, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, the 6 countries that shape the top North of the African continent. Meanwhile, "North Africa", particularly when used in the term North Africa and the Middle East, often refers only to the countries of the Maghreb and Libya. Egypt, being also part of the Middle East, is often considered separately, due to being both North African and Middle Eastern at the same time.

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.

Beach Area of loose particles at the edge of the sea or other body of water

A beach is a landform alongside a body of water which consists of loose particles. The particles composing a beach are typically made from rock, such as sand, gravel, shingle, pebbles. The particles can also be biological in origin, such as mollusc shells or coralline algae.

Water table top of a saturated aquifer, or where the water pressure head is equal to the atmospheric pressure

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.

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]

Ice age Period of long-term reduction in temperature of Earths surface and atmosphere

An ice age is a long period of reduction in the temperature of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, resulting in the presence or expansion of continental and polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers. Earth is currently in the Quaternary glaciation, known in popular terminology as the Ice Age. Individual pulses of cold climate are termed "glacial periods", and intermittent warm periods are called "interglacials", with both climatic pulses part of the Quaternary or other periods in Earth's history.

Classification

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.

Stream A body of surface water flowing down a channel

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.

Vadose zone The unsaturated aquifer above the water table

The vadose zone, also termed the unsaturated zone, is the part of Earth between the land surface and the top of the phreatic zone, the position at which the groundwater is at atmospheric pressure. Hence, the vadose zone extends from the top of the ground surface to the water table.

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.

Clay A finely-grained natural rock or soil material that combines one or more clay minerals

Clay is a finely-grained natural rock or soil material that combines one or more clay minerals with possible traces of quartz (SiO2), metal oxides (Al2O3, MgO etc.) and organic matter. Geologic clay deposits are mostly composed of phyllosilicate minerals containing variable amounts of water trapped in the mineral structure. Clays are plastic due to particle size and geometry as well as water content, and become hard, brittle and non–plastic upon drying or firing. Depending on the soil's content in which it is found, clay can appear in various colours from white to dull grey or brown to deep orange-red.

Rock (geology) A naturally occurring solid aggregate of one or more minerals or mineraloids

A rock is any naturally occurring solid mass or aggregate of minerals or mineraloid matter. It is categorized by the minerals included, its chemical composition and the way in which it is formed. Rocks are usually grouped into three main groups: igneous rocks, metamorphic rocks and sedimentary rocks. Rocks form the Earth's outer solid layer, the crust.

Hydraulic conductivity, symbolically represented as , is a property of vascular plants, soils and rocks, that describes the ease with which a fluid can move through pore spaces or fractures. It depends on the intrinsic permeability of the material, the degree of saturation, and on the density and viscosity of the fluid. Saturated hydraulic conductivity, Ksat, describes water movement through saturated media. By definition, hydraulic conductivity is the ratio of velocity to hydraulic gradient indicating permeability of porous media.

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

Porous

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

Karst

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

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

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

Subsidence

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.

Salination

Diagram of a water balance of the aquifer Aquifersalt.jpg
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.

Examples

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

Related Research Articles

Hydrogeology The study of the distribution and movement of groundwater

Hydrogeology is the area of geology that deals with the distribution and movement of groundwater in the soil and rocks of the Earth's crust. The terms groundwater hydrology, geohydrology, and hydrogeology are often used interchangeably.

Artesian aquifer

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 rock or clay which apply 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 is reached.

Saltwater intrusion is the movement of saline water into freshwater aquifers, which can lead to contamination of drinking water sources and other consequences. Saltwater intrusion occurs naturally to some degree in most coastal aquifers, owing to the hydraulic connection between groundwater and seawater. Because saline water has a higher mineral content than freshwater, it is denser and has a higher water pressure. As a result, saltwater can push inland beneath the freshwater. Certain human activities, especially groundwater pumping from coastal freshwater wells, have increased saltwater intrusion in many coastal areas. Water extraction drops the level of fresh groundwater, reducing its water pressure and allowing saltwater to flow further inland. Other contributors to saltwater intrusion include navigation channels or agricultural and drainage channels, which provide conduits for saltwater to move inland, and it can also make sea level rise. Saltwater intrusion can also be worsened by extreme events like hurricane storm surges.

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.

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).

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 in the southeastern United States. It underlies the entire state of Florida and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina.

Groundwater recharge groundwater that recharges an aquifer

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 and through anthropogenic processes, where rainwater and or reclaimed water is routed to the subsurface.

Surficial aquifers are shallow aquifers typically less than 50 feet (15 m) thick, but larger surficial aquifers of about 60 feet (18 m) have been mapped. They mostly consist of unconsolidated sand enclosed by layers of limestone, sandstone or clay and the water is commonly extracted for urban use. The aquifers are replenished by streams and from precipitation and can vary in volume considerably as the water table fluctuates. Being shallow, they are susceptible to contamination by fuel spills, industrial discharge, landfills, and saltwater. Parts of southeastern United States are dependent on surficial aquifers for their water supplies.

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

Groundwater models are computer models of groundwater flow systems, and are used by hydrogeologists. Groundwater models are used to simulate and predict aquifer conditions.

Well drainage means drainage of agricultural lands by wells. Agricultural land is drained by pumped wells to improve the soils by controlling water table levels and soil salinity.

SahysMod agricultural software

SahysMod is a computer program for the prediction of the salinity of soil moisture, groundwater and drainage water, the depth of the watertable, and the drain discharge in irrigated agricultural lands, using different hydrogeologic and aquifer conditions, varying water management options, including the use of ground water for irrigation, and several crop rotation schedules, whereby the spatial variations are accounted for through a network of polygons.

The groundwater energy balance is the energy balance of a groundwater body in terms of incoming hydraulic energy associated with groundwater inflow into the body, energy associated with the outflow, energy conversion into heat due to friction of flow, and the resulting change of energy status and groundwater level.

Drainage equation

A drainage equation is an equation describing the relation between depth and spacing of parallel subsurface drains, depth of the watertable, depth and hydraulic conductivity of the soils. It is used in drainage design.

Willamette Lowland basin-fill aquifer

The Willamette Lowland basin-fill aquifer is 31,000 km2, 12,000 square mile aquifer underlying the region of Oregon and parts of Washington (state) between the Oregon Coast Range and the Cascade Range. The aquifer shares a name with the local river, the Willamette River, originating from a Clackamas Chinook word. The "mette" of Willamette was used by the Clackamas to mean water or river. The Willamette valley is home to 70% of Oregon's population, with the aquifer supplying water for agricultural, domestic, and industrial purposes. Reported in 2005, the total water use from the aquifer was 1.6 hm3 per day, with 58% going to irrigation, 24% to public supply, and 18% to industrial use. In general, the aquifer withdraw is sufficiently compensated in the long term by recharge through precipitation, however regions of the aquifer have shown long term declines, including that regions underlain by the Columbia River basalt unit. However, during the dry season from June-September, withdrawals from the aquifer result is significant seasonal variations in the ground water table height, changing by more than 60 ft. In the state of Oregon, all water is publicly owned and maintenance and protection of water is done by the Oregon Water Resources Department and the Oregon Water Resources Commission. However, local governments can provide land use permits for aquifer use, notably, use for new rural residences.

Bioclogging or biological clogging is clogging of pore space in soil by microbial biomass; their body and their byproducts such as extracellular polymeric substance (EPS). The microbial biomass blocks the pathway of water in the pore space, forming a certain thickness of impermeable layer in soil, and it reduces the rate of infiltration of water remarkably.

The Chernobyl disaster remains the major and most detrimental nuclear catastrophe which completely altered the radioactive background of the Northern Hemisphere. It happened in April 1986 on the territory of the former Soviet Union. The catastrophe led to the increase of radiation in nearly one million times in some parts of Europe and North America compared to the pre-disaster state Air, water, soils, vegetation and animals were contaminated to a varying degree. Apart from Ukraine and Belarus as the worst hit areas, adversely affected countries included Russia, Austria, Finland and Sweden. The full impact on the aquatic systems, including primarily adjacent valleys of Pripyat river and Dnieper river, are still unexplored.

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