Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The Green Room

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The Green Room

Article excerpt

Get Grounded in Groundwater

While Earth is definitely a water planet, a surprisingly small percentage of that water is fresh, liquid, and accessible by humans. Only 2.5% of Earth's water is fresh, and most of that is frozen. The most abundant source of fresh, liquid water is underground in aquifers, but this is still less than 1% of world water. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) provides a plethora of basic groundwater information, including the "water science school" portion of their website aimed at students (see "On the web").

Groundwater use. In the United States, groundwater accounts for 20% of our water use (Botkin and Keller 2011). According to the USGS, approximately 68% of withdrawn groundwater is dedicated to agriculture, with the rest mainly used for drinking water and industrial purposes (see "On the web"). With more efficient irrigation methods, our demand for groundwater could decline, according to the USGS. However, these improvements may be outweighed by increased demand due to population growth.

Groundwater issues. Aquifer depletion is a problem throughout much of the world. According to a recent study, 30% of the massive Ogallala Aquifer beneath the Great Plains region of the United States has been drained, and another 39% will be pumped out within the next 50 years (Steward et al. 2013). Contamination is another problem. Groundwater is very slow to recover from contamination due to its slow movement, minimal decomposer populations, and relatively low temperatures. Unfortunately, underground waste storage tanks and waste disposal sites can leak into aquifers. An estimated 75,000 or more waste disposal sites are leaking contaminants into U.S. groundwater (Botkin and Keller 2011).

Classroom activities

Start by showing students the three-minute TED-Ed talk about global water use (see "On the web"). Then, ask students to analyze their personal water consumption using the Water, Water, Everywhere activity from Population Connection (see "On the web"). Or, have your students build an aquifer with guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Students use their model aquifer to describe groundwater flow and contamination (see "On the web").

Have students investigate their own local water sources. Use the USGS's National Water Information System to analyze groundwater data for your state (see "On the web"). …

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