Measuring water resources such as groundwater and snowpack is challenging, but the advent of satellite gravity measurements and hydrologic GPS applications can augment traditional methods. This module gives students the unique opportunity to learn these newer methods alongside more traditional ones of groundwater wells and SNOTEL stations. They determine the pros/cons, uncertainty, and spatial scales of different methods. Droughts in the High Plains Aquifer and California are used as case studies. In the summative assessment, students pull together what they have learned and write a report with recommendations for policy makers.
Strengths of the Module
- The students learn about the water cycle in a concrete, nontheoretical way. They learn the challenges and methods of measuring different aspects of the water cycle and gain a better understanding of the very real societal hurdles to providing sufficient water for agriculture and communities—especially during droughts.
- The module emphasizes large time-series data sets that the students need to display, manipulate, analyze, and integrate. These include traditional methods of precipitation, groundwater well-logs, and SNOTEL pillows, as well as geodetic methods of total water storage (TWS) from gravity data (GRACE satellites), TWS from GPS vertical position, and snow depth from reflection GPS. Students find it fascinating to learn that geodetic methods such as GPS were not intended for water resource measurement. These applications were discovered later after GPS were installed to measure things such as tectonic motions.
- Unit 4 serves as a summative assessment in which students distill the main points of a longer lab exercise into a report that is intended for California policy makers or nonprofit organizations.
- The module can be used in traditional laboratory sessions, as part of a lecture/lab combination, or in a flipped classroom. The units may also be modified to combine various portions and delete others.
- Students gain significant experience applying a variety of quantitative skills from time-series analysis to graphing and uncertainties.
Great fit for majors-level classes in:
- Earth System Science
- Environmental Science
- Introductory Geoscience for Majors
Table of Contents
- Instructor Materials: Overview of the Measuring Water Resources Module
- Unit 1: Introduction to the hydrologic cycle and stakeholder analysis
- Unit 2: Characterizing groundwater storage with well and GRACE data
- Unit 3: Monitoring groundwater storage with GPS vertical position
- Unit 4: Water budget assessment of a California drought
- Student Materials
- Instructor Stories
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