Happyville Water Table Contour Map

Jennifer Sliko, Penn State Harrisburg
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Initial Publication Date: May 12, 2017 | Reviewed: May 10, 2019


In this activity, students create and interpret a water table contour map. Students utilize groundwater well elevations and the depth to the water table at each well to determine the water table elevation at each well location. Then they utilize that information to create a contour map of the water table and determine the direction of groundwater flow.

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Learning Goals

Content/concepts goals
The goal of this activity is to create a water table contour map and interpret the direction of groundwater flow in the area.

Higher order thinking skills goals
Students will

  • calculate water table elevation
  • create a contour map
  • analyze groundwater flow paths

Other skills goals
Depending on how you set up the activity, students can also

  • work in groups
  • interpret a map (using the map scale to answer questions)
  • discuss potential impact of hydraulic fracturing

Context for Use

Type and level of course
This activity can be used in introductory-level courses for both geology majors and non-majors.

Skills and concepts students should have mastered
Student must be familiar with the water table, aquifers, aquitards, and contour maps before beginning this activity. Students should also be familiar with groundwater wells before starting this activity.

How the activity is situated in the course
This activity is part of a 1-week module on groundwater. This project is then also used later in the semester as part of a group discussion on hydraulic fracturing.

Description and Teaching Materials

Below are the student directions for the activity, the map of the area ("Happyville") and the excel spreadsheet with the groundwater well elevations and depths to the water table at each location.
Directions for Happyville Activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 213kB May11 17)
Happyville Directions (Acrobat (PDF) 391kB May11 17)
Happyville Calculations (Excel 28kB May11 17)
Happyville Map (Illustrator 975kB May11 17)

Teaching Notes and Tips


I grade the contour map (proper placement of contour lines, proper use of contour interval, proper indication of groundwater movement) and I grade the 4 questions at the end of the activity.

References and Resources