What is groundwater?
As the name implies, groundwater is water that exists beneath Earth’s surface. This is when the hydrosphere interacts with the geosphere, a process that is part of the water cycle.
Groundwater is stored in aquifers. There is the misconception that aquifers are pools of water underneath the Earth. However, aquifers consist of gravel, sand, or limestone (permeable rocks) with small spaces large enough to allow water to flow through. Although, an aquifer does have an area completely filled with water. This area would be called a saturated zone. In an aquifer, this zone would vary from place to place. Not all segments of an aquifer consistently contain water, though the top section of a saturated zone would be named the water table.
In essence, the groundwater cycle is the water cycle. Groundwater can be accessed by digging wells and utilizing pumps to gain access to underground water. It could be used for irrigation, or man-made wells. However, due to natural causes, groundwater can be exposed to the surface. If the water table is too close to the surface, then small springs, or large ones, may spring up above ground.
Through the water cycle, some of the previous groundwater evaporated into the atmosphere and condensed into clouds. When these clouds become burdened with water droplets, precipitation falls from the clouds. Finally, as water returns to the earth, it can penetrate the ground through infiltration to become groundwater once again.
Effects of Groundwater
Karst topography is the term which refers to all of the chemical and physical changes to the geosphere from the result of the actions of groundwater. Sinkholes which then fill with groundwater is an example of such. Other results of interactions with groundwater include hot springs, geysers, stalactites, and stalagmites.
Pollution is one of the greatest environmental issues that groundwater currently faces. Groundwater pollution can come from many sources, and it mostly comes from the surface. It’s main instigator is infiltration, where fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides soak into the ground and access the aquifer reserves. Underground storage tanks, such as septic tanks, can also leak sewage waste, oil, and toxic chemicals into the ground. Once groundwater is contaminated, it is deemed toxic, and we would not have the ability to use the water as any source.
Unfortunately, groundwater is much quicker to deplete than surface water because aquifers take a very long time to refill. Groundwater is quickly depleted, since it is pumped from wells for drinking water, but also for large-scale irrigation systems. The water is taken from the aquifers at a very quick pace, and isn’t able to reproduce the lost water at the same rate. Thus, the problem is that the reserves are dangerously ebbing away.
Although we may lose water as a result, which is never a positive, but overdrawing groundwater may lead to saltwater intruding into aquifers along coastal areas. When this occurs, the pure freshwater would become contaminated, thus being unable to drink.
Overdrawing water can also lead to another problem called, subsidence. This is when the ground sinks to fill the empty space below it. Loss of water in the aquifers means more available space, which gives earth the ability to sink. This is how sinkholes are formed. It could devastate the landscape, and destroy homes and lives if the ground were to suddenly collapse.
Groundwater pollution is often overlooked in daily activities. We aren’t able to see the effects, because groundwater is way beneath our feet. There are various ways to prevent groundwater pollution and overdrawing. To take action is the most difficult part. To just be aware that groundwater pollution is out there, and that our water reserves are slowly depleting due to these factors is a step.
Let others know of the implications of what us human beings may be doing to the environment. Who knows? One day there might be an apocalypse and our water reserves are all depleted. Or, a nuclear war might break out and destroy the earth as we know it.
Let’s stop it now.