GIS Skill Development and Exploration Using the High Plains Aquifer Databases

submitted by

P. Allen Macfarlane Kansas Geological Survey
Author Profile

Initial Publication Date: April 12, 2006 | Reviewed: June 8, 2013
Students work with data bases and GIS to develop saturated thickness maps. Each data base consists of observations made by drillers where they have encountered the High Plains aquifer base and the annual water-level measurements taken in wells screened in the High Plains aquifer by field technicians.
GSA Poster (PowerPoint 10.5MB Nov5 04)

Learning Goals

groound-water resources management

Geologic Skills:
Using digital elevation models of the earth's surface and depth water and the base of the High Plains aquifer to determine water-table elevation and elevation of the aquifer base.

Analysis of driller's logs of water wells and the gamma-ray logs of wells drilled for oil and gas to estimate the depth to the base of the High Plains aquifer.

Higher Order Thinking Skills:
Is there a relationhsip between intensity of pumping and decreases in saturated thickness?

Using water-level datasets from the last 30 years what will the saturated thickness look like in 5-year increments over the next 30 years?

Other Skills:
GIS skill development including GIS database setup, data analysis within the GIS, and using the GIS coverages to producs maps.


Instructional Level:
Undergraduate major, graduate student. Could possibly be used in grades 11-12

Skills Needed:
Basic hydrogeology concepts

Calculation of water-table and base of the aquifer elevations from depth to water measurements and base of the aquifer from surface measurements.

Basic understanding of GIS and the ability to use it to develop coverages from data sets and produce maps.

Role of Activity in a Course:
At the secondary level the activity could be used as a research project in an earth or environmental science class as part of a unit on water resources.

At the undergerduate major level. The activity could become part of a hydrogeology class or used in geography courses that stess GIS.

Data, Tools and Logistics

Required Tools:
GIS software

Logistical Challenges:
At the secondary level, the instructor will need to more closely monitor students working with the GIS software than at the college level.


Evaluation Goals:
Two methods were given for generating saturated thickness maps from the water-level and bedrock elevation datasets. Which method was most commonly used?

What conclusions were the students able to draw from changes in saturated thickness over time? If they found a relationship between the level of pumping and saturated thickness decrease over time, to what level would the pumpage have to be reduced to stop the decrease?

Evaluation Techniques:


Saturated thickness and thickness change over time are important parameters used to model and manage the High Plains aquifer. Insight into how these parameters are being used for High Plains aquifer management can be found through HiPLAIN ( Calculation of these parameters is made possible because of depth to water measurements taken annually in irrigation and other types of water wells and the driller's and geophysical logs of the thousands of wells that have been drilled in the region. These data are readily available over the Internet from HiPLAIN or the Kansas Geological Survey directly (KGS, through the WIZARD, Water Well Completion Records, Oil and Gas, and other derivative databases. These large databases represent the collected field observations and experiences of science practitioners (well drillers and field technicians) and thus present opportunities for learning, 3-D visualization, and skill development, especially the ability to use geographic information systems (GIS) to analyze geospatial data sets from diverse sources. The availability of these data sets from the Internet makes them ideal for GIS instruction and skill development and for conducting meaningful student tresearch on water-resources issues in the High Plains region.