The best way for students to understand how groundwater flows is to actually see it. In this activity, students will learn the vocabulary associated with groundwater and see a demonstration of groundwater flow. Students will learn about the measurements that environmental engineers need when creating a groundwater model of a chemical plume.
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- Colorado: Math
- Colorado: Science
- Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Math
- 2. Fluently divide multi-digit numbers using the standard algorithm. (Grade 6)  ...show
- 3. Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation. (Grade 6)  ...show
- d. Use ratio reasoning to convert measurement units; manipulate and transform units appropriately when multiplying or dividing quantities. (Grade 6)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- E. Technologies can be used to repair damage caused by natural disasters and to break down waste from the use of various products and systems. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Develop a model to describe the cycling of water through Earth's systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Understand how water flows through the ground.
- Compare a groundwater model with what it represents.
- Find the velocity of groundwater flow through a model.
- Describe the role of engineers in the treatment of aquifers.
- A groundwater model tank, such as one made by enVISION Environmental Education; or use the movie in the attached PowerPoint® presentation.
- 1 sheet of large poster board
- Variety of colored markers (including brown and blue)
- Three copies of the Where Does the Water Go? Worksheet
|Layer of soil or rock containing water that yields useable water when pumped.|
|Water under the ground often in permeable layers of rock or soil.|
|The zone underground that is completely saturated with water.|
|Also know as the unsaturated zone, it is the zone underground above the water table that is not saturated with water.|
|The line between the saturated zone and the vadose zone.|
Before the Activity
- Obtain a groundwater tank of some sort. If this is not possible, the activity can be replaced with the "What's Down the Well" activity (from Lesson 4 of this unit). Find a groundwater model to use; many schools have one. If yours does not, you could likely borrow one from a local college/university. (Also, it would be a good idea to check with surrounding high schools.)
- Make enough copies of the Where Does the Water Go? Worksheet so that each student has their own copy.
With the Students
- Write the following terms on the board and ask students to think about what they mean: water table, groundwater, aquifer and soil.
- Demonstrate groundwater flow using a groundwater model tank. It is best to have different types of soil — one coarser grained like gravel and a finer grain soil (like sand) — and include an example surface water feature (like a lake). Add food coloring to the surface water so students can visualize how the water can flow from the surface water to the ground and then move under the ground. Remind students that gravity is the force that causes water to flow and move in this way.
- Ask students how fast they think the water is flowing through the tank. Ask the students to recall anything they know about velocity. Tell them velocity is equal to distance divided by time. Ask students how they could calculate the groundwater velocity.
- As a class, have one student measure the length of the tank and one student time how long it takes for die added to one side of the tank to reach the other side of the tank. With these two numbers they should be able to calculate velocity.
- If time permits, have students calculate the velocity through individual types of soils.
- In groups of three, have students make a poster of what they saw in the demo. Their posters should include all the different types of soil in the tank and a key that labels and describes the different types of soils. Students should also label and define the following items: water table, aquifer, flow direction.
- If time allows, have students present their drawings to the classes.
- Have students complete the Where Does the Water Go? Worksheet in class or as homework.
- An environmental engineering firm has been notified of a chemical spill outside the city. What do you think they need to know about the area of the spill before they can begin treating it? Accept all answers.
- What is an aquifer?
- What is groundwater?
- What does water looks like under they ground?
Activity Embedded Assessment
- What is an aquifer? (Answer: Soil or permeable rock that is saturated with water.)
- What is the water table? (Answer: the line that water comes to in soil)
- Does groundwater flow like a river? (Answer: No, normally water flows slowly through the pores in between soil grains.)
- What force causes water to move through the ground? (Answer: Gravitational force.)
- What does saturated mean? (Answer: When all the pores are filled with water.)
- What do engineers have to know about groundwater flow when treating the aquifer for harmful chemicals? (Answer: porosity, permeability, direction and velocity of flow.)
- Why must engineers take measurements in all areas surrounding a chemical plume? (Answer: Because chemicals often spread in all directions, not just in a straight line.)
- Case A: A chemical reaches the local city drinking water supply 25 miles away in 36 hours. (Answer: 25 miles / 36 hrs = 0.69 miles/hr or 0.01 miles/minute)
- Case B: A chemical enters the aquifer 5 miles below the spill in 120 minutes. (Answer: 5 miles / 120 minutes = 0.04 miles/minute.)
- Case C: A chemical is spilled on March 1st. It enters the local aquifer 30 miles away on March 15th. (Answer: 30 miles / 15 days = 2 miles/day = 0.08 miles/hour or 0.001 miles/minute.)
enVISION Environmental Education, manufacturer of Environmental Education Products and Groundwater Models: http://www.envisionenviroed.net/
Google search on available ground model education resources: http://www.google.com/
© 2005 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Last modified: February 11, 2016