Water flow in the subsurface

Andrew M. Goodliffe
University of Alabama
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Initial Publication Date: April 30, 2008


Using an off-the-shelf mock-up of a hydrological system, students are asked to predict where water will flow. Dyed water is injected into various parts of the system so that the students can see the flow patterns.

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This exercise is used in an introductory undergraduate level geoscience course primarily taken by non-majors. The course title is Sustainable Earth.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

The concepts of porosity and permeability.

How the activity is situated in the course

The activity is used during the groundwater/pollution segment of the class.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students will be able to observe how water flows through the subsurface.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students will be able to predict the flow of water in the subsurface using their knowledge of porosity, permeability, and maybe even Darcy's Law.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students will understand the consequence of pollutant flow in the subsurface and the consequences for other people.

Description of the activity/assignment

Students are presented with a working geological model of the subsurface. This includes permeable and impermeable horizons, a simulated lake/river, and a number of wells. In the demonstration phase of the activity dyed water is injected at various points in the model. Students are asked to predict where this dye will travel. Examples are given of various real world scenarios, ranging from groundwater flow from a septic tank to the disposal of hazardous pollutants down a deep well. Students are then invited to experiment with the model in groups.

Determining whether students have met the goals

The ability to accurately predict groundwater flow in the model.

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