What Is An Aquifer?

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For a pdf version of the Aquifer Infographic click here.

Aquifers are bodies of saturated rock and sediment through which water can move, and they provide 99% of our groundwater.  Humans rely on aquifers for most of our drinking water. However, we are not only depleting this supply but are its biggest polluters as well. This infographic provides facts and illustrations to explain the process.

This infographic is part of a four-part educational series on Ground Water.


Production Credits:
Producer: Scott Leigh
Executive Producer: Melanie Eirich
Graphic Designer: Lisa Craig
Contributing Producer for QUEST Nebraska: Gary Hochman
Educational Review: Anica Brown

Pre-Discussion Questions for Aquifers

  • How would you describe an aquifer?
  • Why are aquifers important?
  • Is it possible for an aquifer to run dry? Why or why not?
  • Which state in the U.S. do you think uses the most groundwater and why?

Focus Discussion for Aquifers

  • Why are aquifers important to us?
  • How does water get into an aquifer?
  • What type of aquifer is the Ogallala (High Plains) Aquifer?
  • All of the water on the earth is suitable for drinking. True or False?

Post-Discussion Questions for Aquifers

  • Is an aquifer the same as an underground lake or river? Why or why not?
  • What are the two types of aquifers? Describe them and how the water is stored or found in each.
  • What are some ways that an aquifer can be depleted, contaminated, and replenished?
  • What is the result when water is pumped faster from a well than the aquifer near the well can be recharged?
  • What are groundwater monitoring wells and why are they important?

Links to Learn More

  • Aquifer Basics, USGS - A page from the USGS Groundwater Information series on their website.
  • National Geographic Education: Aquifer, National Geographic - A very basic look at the “anatomy” of an aquifer.
  • Ground-Level Changes in Nebraska, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, School of Natural Resources - Maps, maps, maps from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s School of Natural Resources!  These are large, downloadable maps in different formats comparing groundwater levels during different periods of time.
  • The Price of Water, NET -An NET Television documentary with segments on the Ogallala Aquifer, groundwater and tap water.
  • Tapping unsustainable groundwater stores for agricultural production in the High Plains AquiferPNAS -This page provides an extended abstract for the 2013 article (based on four years of research) that created an outpouring of concern when the authors’ argued that “agriculture is tapping the High Plains Aquifer beyond natural replenishment rates to grow irrigated crops and livestock.”  The abstract page links to the full text of the original article.
  • How long before the Great Plains run out of water?  The Washington Post - A Washington Post article based on a recent major study of the Ogallala Aquifer.
  • Running Dry on the Great Plains, The New York Times - A New York Times Op-Ed piece claiming that the aquifer is being wasted and polluted.

NGSS Correlations

  • Performance Expectation:  Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how the uneven distributions of Earth’s mineral, energy, and groundwater resources are the result of past and current geoscience processes. MS-ESS2 Earth’s Systems
  • Disciplinary Core Idea: The Role of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes: Water continually cycles among land, ocean, and atmosphere via transpiration, evaporation, condensation and crystallization, and precipitation, as well as downhill flows on land. MS - ESS2.C
  • Science & Engineering Practices: Developing and Using Models, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions & Engaging in Argument from Evidence.