Awesome Aquifer Activity
Posted September 30, 2020
Experiment: An edible aquifer at home
Looking for a hands-on science activity you can do at home? Try this fun an educational experiment from the comfort of your kitchen. You and your family can build a tasty aquifer that shows how human activity can have an effect on groundwater.
Groundwater is a vital resource, as it makes up a portion of our essential freshwater that is used for drinking, cooking, irrigation, and other everyday activities. During this activity, kids can hypothesize, then observe, how water moves through the aquifer and how potentially harmful substances (pesticides, fertilizers, etc.) can migrate through the groundwater. Those substances can come from a variety of sources such as agricultural, commercial, and industrial land application or other waste byproducts.
What is an aquifer?
Aquifers are made from rocks and soil that become saturated with water over time. Rocks underground have many small pore spaces, and therefore the porous layer can become saturated with water. Groundwater flows underground in those aquifers and is typically pumped out of the ground by drilling a deep well. Groundwater from aquifers can be used for several purposes, including irrigation, thermoelectric power, and drinking water. Groundwater is different than surface water. Surface water is the water that makes up the beautiful bodies of water we love such as lakes, rivers, and streams. Surface water is often used as a public water supply that goes through a water treatment process before entering our homes. This treated water has to meet drinking water standards that protect human health. Whereas, groundwater we typically find in wells does not have to go through a regulated water treatment process before reaching our faucets at home.
It is easy to forget that harmful substances can get into our groundwater. Pesticides, fertilizers, and other potentially harmful substances that easily dissolve in water can move with water through those small pores to remain in the saturated groundwater layer. Water from wells is not always tested or treated for potentially harmful substances; therefore, humans and animals could become exposed to those substances.
The best way to work toward a healthier groundwater environment is to be thoughtful about what and how much of those potentially harmful substances we apply to the land. We can protect groundwater through the use of best management practices such as using only what is needed and in the proper way.
Build your tasty treat aquifer
This is a great activity to teach young ones at home that what we do on land can have an effect on underlying soils and our sources of groundwater. Being thoughtful environmental stewards can move us one step closer to healthy water supplies and that we should preserve for our future generations.
Materials and instructions
You will need:
- Vanilla ice cream – of any kind
- Clear cup (1 per person)
- Soda – your favorite
- Sprinkles or other toppings
- Crushed Oreo, ice, or other types of small treats
Step 1: Build your aquifer
First put down the rock – porous layer with ice, crushed Oreos, or other crunchy treats. Then, on top of that layer; apply a thick layer of vanilla ice cream, which represents a tight clay-confining soil layer on top of the aquifer. Use a spoon to build a thick layer in a clear cup.
Step 2: Add some “potentially harmful substances”
Once you have a tightly sealed aquifer, pour soda on top of the ice cream aquifer and rock layer. While you are applying the “substances” to the land layer, you can ask the kiddos what kind of potentially harmful materials they might find on the ground outside. Note how the “substance” does not sink to the bottom of the cup right away. This is a fun time to have the kids hypothesize about how the “substance” could migrate down into the aquifer layer. You can top the soda with sprinkles or small candies to act as additional fertilizer or pesticides being introduced into the aquifer.
Step 3: Drill into the aquifer
Grab your straw, and use it as a drill to reach all the way down to the aquifer layer. Watch how the “substance” slowly starts to trickle down into the aquifer and groundwater.
Step 4: Pump the aquifer
After observing the “substance” migrating into the aquifer layer, the kids can now pump their delicious treat with their straw by drinking up the yummy layers! While this is a delicious example, it is important to note that groundwater can easily become affected if we are not good stewards of our land.
We hope you enjoy this experiment at home, as it provides insight to how aquifers work. If you are interested in similar educational activities or need assistance with your groundwater or other hydrogeology-related projects, send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This project was adapted from similar groundwater actives by Kaleigh Sims, an environmental toxicologist at SynTerra. Ms. Sims has previously worked on a variety of environmental education projects and lessons for all age groups. Many of those lessons can be found using Project WET or other online sources and are adapted to meet specific curricula or other scientific and environmental educational needs.