Let’s Look Together: “Groundwater - Making the Invisible, Visible” with GLOBE

Blog Contributors: Denise "Skye" Yost - GIO and Matthew Rodell - NASA

World Water Day (WWD) is right around the corner on 22 March 2022! WWD began in 1993 by the United Nations to celebrate freshwater, and bring awareness to use and conservation of freshwater resources across the globe.

This year, the theme for WWD is Groundwater. Groundwater is often misunderstood because it is not seen easily, unlike rivers, lakes, ponds, or oceans. But, groundwater plays a very important role in freshwater sources, specifically in providing moisture for plants to grow, and water for animals and humans to drink . 

“Groundwater may be invisible, but its impact is visible everywhere!” - UN Water

What is Groundwater?

“Groundwater is the water stored underground in geologic formations called aquifers.  An aquifer is typically composed of sand, gravel, broken rock, rock with hollow openings like limestone, or even clay. Almost anywhere on Earth, if you drill deep enough you will eventually find groundwater.” - Dr. Matthew Rodell

To learn more about Groundwater, check out the GLOBE Instagram page on 22 March for a special World Water Day Highlight from NASA Scientist, Dr. Matthew Rodell, an expert in groundwater and the NASA Deputy Director of Earth Sciences for Hydrosphere, Biosphere, and Geophysics. He will expand on what groundwater is, where it is, and why it is so important for us all!  For a sneak peak, check out Dr. Rodell's groundwater summary here!

How to Celebrate WWD and learn in the process?

Leading up to and following WWD, there are so many ways to celebrate with the GLOBE Program. For instance, you may take part in the Water Bodies Data Challenge (Europe and Eurasia Region), check out the UNWater WWD 2022 website for several fun activities, share photos with GLOBE Social Media, or collect and visualize water data using several GLOBE protocols, activities, and tools!

Below are a few examples (including a summary and visualization) of how GLOBE Students have investigated groundwater in their countries and cities using GLOBE protocols and tools:

Comparative Study of the Effect of Watering with Desalination Water and Groundwater Water on the Change of Ph Soil Values and Plant Growth by the Arwa Bint Kuraiz Intermediate Girls School at Al-Baha - Saudi Arabia (check out the IVSS report here)

  • GLOBE Protocols: Soil pH, conductivity

  • Summary: The objective of this study was to compare the use of desalinated sea water and groundwater on irrigated soils. The students found that desalination increased the pH of the irrigated soils and led to weaker and unhealthy plants, while groundwater treated soils maintained a steady pH and led to better quality crops and production. Based on their findings, the students recommended the use of groundwater over desalinated water for irrigation.

Examine the suitability of Groundwater in the Ghuraifa area for Human Use and Agricultural Irrigation by the Hafsah Bint Sirit Basic School - Oman (Check out the IVSS report here)

  • GLOBE Protocols: pH, Water Temperature, Salinity (including Titration), Conductivity, Soil Temperature, Soil pH, Soil Fertility, Soil Characterization, Earth As a System

  • Summary: The objective of this study was to evaluate the characteristics of well water in the Ghuraifa area of Al Buraimi and its potential use for agriculture and human activities (cooking, washing, etc.). The students found that the tested water had increased concentrations of dissolved salt and an increased level of microbiological contamination (specifically E. coli). These findings show that the tested groundwater is not suitable for irrigating crops or human activities. The group recommends periodic testing of the well water to examine the salinity levels and microbial growth, while also incorporating salt-resistant crops or treating the well water with chlorine to prevent bacterial growth.

Characteristics of Groundwater Analysis in the Wu Yuan Area by the National Lo-Tung Senior High School - Taiwan Partnership (check out the IVSS report here

  • GLOBE Protocols: pH, Water Temperature

  • Summary: The objective of this report was to evaluate the distribution of groundwater wells containing natural gas in Wuyuan, and compare the groundwater quality to other water drainages. The students mapped the groundwater sites via Google Earth to determine the distribution of the wells containing natural gas. The students found that the groundwater containing natural gas had higher pH values and temperatures compared to normal drainages. 

As you may see, GLOBE students have used a variety of GLOBE protocols to understand the quality of the groundwater and to understand its use and connection to plant growth and human consumption. Groundwater links to several of Earth's spheres! 

According to Dr. Rodell, 

“The largest consumptive use of groundwater worldwide is irrigation for food crops. Many of the most productive agricultural regions of the world are semi-arid regions, meaning there is not enough rain to support the crops that are grown, and farmers make up the difference by pumping groundwater and using it for irrigation.  In some aquifers, the withdrawals have been exceeding recharge for many years, and as a result the water levels have declined. An aquifer’s water is not limitless, and long term groundwater depletion to support agriculture causes wells to go dry.  Deeper wells can be drilled, but eventually either the water is gone or what is left is too saline to be used.”

So what is the solution? Like the recommendations that several of the students reported in their IVSS projects using GLOBE Protocols (see above), Dr. Rodell suggests, 

“Planting crops that need less water and/or drought resistant varieties.  Improved irrigation scheduling, which takes advantage of new technologies and even computer models, is gaining acceptance.  Finally, growing crops that can survive on the rainfall available in a given location may be the most important decision of all.”

Explore Groundwater with GLOBE

If you are interested in how to investigate the groundwater in your local area, check out these GLOBE Protocols and Activities to explore the Earth as a System:

Agriculture Bundle

Soils Bundle

Water Cycle Bundle 

Water Quality Bundle

All Hydrosphere and Pedosphere Protocols 

Biosphere Protocols including Green-up/Green-down and Biometry

Water and Land from The GLOBE Program’s app, GLOBE Observer

Watershed Dynamics

Earth as a System Interactions 

UN Water and USGS Resources: Water Cycle in 60 Languages