Hydrology

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Rain over a Scottish catchment. Understanding the cycling of water into, through, and out of catchments is a key element of hydrology. Rain over Beinn Eich, Luss Hills, Scotland.jpg
Rain over a Scottish catchment. Understanding the cycling of water into, through, and out of catchments is a key element of hydrology.

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 hydrologist. Hydrologists are scientists studying earth or environmental science, civil or environmental engineering, and physical geography. [1] 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. [1]

Contents

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.

Oceanography and meteorology are not included because water is only one of many important aspects within those fields.

Hydrological research can inform environmental engineering, policy, and planning.

Branches

Applications

History

The Roman aqueduct at Caesaria Maritima, bringing water from the wetter Carmel mountains to the settlement. Caesarea maritima BW 3.JPG
The Roman aqueduct at Caesaria Maritima, bringing water from the wetter Carmel mountains to the settlement.

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. [2] 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. [3]

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' 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)

Themes

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.

Groundwater

Building a map of groundwater contours Building a map of groundwater countours.gif
Building a map of groundwater contours

Ground water is water beneath Earth's surface, often pumped for drinking water. [1] Groundwater hydrology (hydrogeology) considers quantifying groundwater flow and solute transport. [4] 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 [5] for characterising aquifers. There are also problems in characterising the vadose zone (unsaturated zone). [6]

Infiltration

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. [7] :250–275

Soil moisture

Soil moisture can be measured in various ways; by capacitance probe, time domain reflectometer or Tensiometer. Other methods include solute sampling and geophysical methods. [8]

Surface water flow

A flood hydrograph showing stage for the Shawsheen River at Wilmington. Wlmm3 hg.png
A flood hydrograph showing stage for the Shawsheen River at Wilmington.

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.

Precipitation and evaporation

A standard NOAA rain gauge 2013-10-14 12 27 49 National Weather Service Standard Rain Gauge.JPG
A standard NOAA rain gauge

In some considerations, hydrology is thought of as starting at the land-atmosphere boundary [9] 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

Estimates of changes in water storage around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, measured by NASA's GRACE satellites. The satellites measure tiny changes in gravitational acceleration, which can then be processed to reveal movement of water due to changes in its total mass. NASA's GRACE Sees Major Water Losses in Middle East.jpg
Estimates of changes in water storage around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, measured by NASA's GRACE satellites. The satellites measure tiny changes in gravitational acceleration, which can then be processed to reveal movement of water due to changes in its total mass.

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. [10] 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.

Water quality

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.

Integrating measurement and modelling

Prediction

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.

Statistical hydrology

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.

Modeling

Plan view of simulated water flow through a catchment using the SHETRAN hydrological model. Shetran plan view dunsop.jpg
Plan view of simulated water flow through a catchment using the SHETRAN hydrological model.

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: [11]

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.

Transport

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.

Organizations

Intergovernmental organizations

International research bodies

National research bodies

National and international societies

Basin- and catchment-wide overviews

Research journals

See also

Other water-related fields

Related Research Articles

Aquifer Underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock

An aquifer is an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock, rock fractures or unconsolidated materials. 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, and aquiclude, which is a solid, impermeable area underlying or overlying an aquifer, the pressure of which could create a confined aquifer.

Water cycle The continuous movement of water on, above and below the surface of the Earth

The water cycle, also known as the hydrologic cycle or the hydrological cycle, describes the continuous movement of water on, above and below the surface of the Earth. The mass of water on Earth remains fairly constant over time but the partitioning of the water into the major reservoirs of ice, fresh water, saline water and atmospheric water is variable depending on a wide range of climatic variables. The water moves from one reservoir to another, such as from river to ocean, or from the ocean to the atmosphere, by the physical processes of evaporation, condensation, precipitation, infiltration, surface runoff, and subsurface flow. In doing so, the water goes through different forms: liquid, solid (ice) and vapor.

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 the surface; it may discharge from the surface naturally 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.

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.

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 water-related science and engineering, there are two similar but distinct definitions in use for the word drawdown:

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.

Subsurface flow, in hydrology, is the flow of water beneath earth's surface as part of the water cycle.

Geographic information systems (GISs) have become a useful and important tool in the field of hydrology to study and manage Earth's water resources. Climate change and greater demands on water resources require a more knowledgeable disposition of arguably one of our most vital resources. Because water in its occurrence varies spatially and temporally throughout the hydrologic cycle, its study using GIS is especially practical. Whereas previous GIS systems were mostly static in their geospatial representation of hydrologic features, GIS platforms are becoming increasingly dynamic, narrowing the gap between historical data and current hydrologic reality.

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

Surface water water on the continents surface, rather than underground

Surface water is water located on top of the Earth's surface such as rivers, creeks, and wetlands. This may also be referred to as blue water. The vast majority is produced by precipitation and water runoff from nearby areas. As the climate warms in the spring, snowmelt runs off towards nearby streams and rivers contributing towards a large portion of our drinking water. Levels of surface water lessen as a result of evaporation as well as water moving into the ground becoming ground-water. Alongside being used for drinking water, surface water is also used for irrigation, wastewater treatment, livestock, industrial uses, hydropower, and recreation. r It is recorded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that approximately 68 percent of water provided to communities comes from surface water. For USGS water-use reports, surface water is considered freshwater when it contains less than 1,000 milligrams per liter (m/L) of dissolved solids.

Hydrological model simplification of a real-world system that aids in understanding, predicting, and managing water resources

A hydrologic model is a simplification of a real-world system that aids in understanding, predicting, and managing water resources. Both the flow and quality of water are commonly studied using hydrologic models.

Hydrology (agriculture) study of water balance components intervening in agricultural water management, especially in irrigation and drainage

Agricultural hydrology is the study of water balance components intervening in agricultural water management, especially in irrigation and drainage.

Environmental impact of irrigation

The environmental impacts of irrigation relate to the changes in quantity and quality of soil and water as a result of irrigation and the effects on natural and social conditions in river basins and downstream of an irrigation scheme. The impacts stem from the altered hydrological conditions caused by the installation and operation of the irrigation scheme.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to hydrology:

Hydrology of Switzerland overview about the hydrology of Switzerland

Hydrology is the science which studies the water cycle as a whole, hence the water exchanges between soil and atmosphere but also between the soil and sub ground (groundwater).

The University of California Center for Hydrologic Modeling (UCCHM) is a campus-wide hydrologic modeling research center, located at the University of California, Irvine. The models and modeling frameworks developed at the Center address the urgent environmental and health issues related to water availability, such as how water availability will change in response to external factors like global climate change, how water availability will change with diminishing snow and ice, and how the frequency of hydrologic extremes will affect the state of California The UCCHM team, made up of faculty, researchers and students, is working towards creating a state-of-the-art integrated model of California water resources that can influence and inform leaders of local, state and regional governments when making water management decisions.

Noam Weisbrod Professor of Hydrology in the Department of Environmental Hydrology and Microbiology at the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research

Noam Weisbrod is an Hydrology Professor at the Department of Environmental Hydrology and Microbiology of the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research (ZIWR), which is part of the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research (BIDR) at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU). Weisbrod served as director of ZIWR from 2015 to 2018. In 2018 he became director of BIDR.

Shirley Jean Dreiss (1949–1993) was an American scientist working in the fields of hydrology and hydrogeology. After gaining her PhD from Stanford University, she went on to join the faculty of the University of California at Santa Cruz, where she became Professor and Chair of the Department of Earth Sciences. She made important contributions to the understanding of water flow through karst aquifers and fluid flow in subduction zones. At the time of her early death in a car accident, she was studying the groundwater system of Mono Lake in California. She was awarded the Birdsall Distinguished Lectureship from the Geological Society of America, which was renamed the Birdsall-Dreiss Distinguished Lectureship after her death.

Audrey H. Sawyer American hydrogeologist researcher

Audrey Hucks Sawyer is an American hydrogeologist and Assistant Professor of Earth Science at Ohio State University. Her work has focused on quantifying the role of groundwater - surface water interactions in transporting nutrients, contaminants, and heat in rivers and coastal settings. Sawyer has won multiple awards, including the National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2018 and the Kohout Early Career Award in 2016.

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Further reading