Using GIS to Construct Water Table Maps and Flow Nets

Robert Newton
Smith College
Author Profile


Seepage lake elevation data from the Sand Hills of Nebraska is used to construct a water table map and flow net using ESRI's ArcMap software. Students learn how to use GIS software to analyze patterns of groundwater flow.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



upper-level undergraduate groundwater course open to geology majors, math majors and engineering majors

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have a good understanding of topographic maps and contours.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is done early in the groundwater course, usually within the first 4 weeks.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Flow through porous media

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Two-dimensional data analysis, formation of hypotheses from an examination of the data.

Other skills goals for this activity

Learn to use the ArcMap GIS software to create potentiometric surface maps

Description of the activity/assignment

This exercise is done in a computer lab using ESRI ArcMap software with both the Spatial Analyst and 3D Analyst extensions. Students are given a copy of the Lakeside Nebraska 15 minute topographic map and a shapefile containing all the lake elevation data. They are given instructions on how to rasterize the point data to create a contour map of the water table surface and are then shown how to create flow lines. Their task is to create a flow net that they will use to determine areas of groundwater recharge and discharge. They will then generate hypotheses to explain what controls the groundwater flow system in this area.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students turn in maps and a 1-2 page written report on the groundwater flow system.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials