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ydrology is the study of water and its properties, including its
distribution and movement in and through the land areas of the
earth. The hydrologic cycle consists of the passage of water from
the oceans into the atmosphere by evaporation and transpiration
(or evapotranspiration), onto the lands, over and under the lands as runof
and infiltration, and back to the oceans.

Hydrology is principally concerned with the part of the cycle after the
precipitation of water onto the land and before its return to the oceans;
thus meteorology and oceanography are closely related to hydrology.

Hydrologists study the cycle by measuring such variables as the amount and
intensity of precipitation, the amount of water stored as snow or in glaciers,
the advance and retreat of glaciers, the rate of flow in streams, and the soil-
water balance.

Hydrology also includes the study of the amount and flow of groundwater.
Though the flow of water cannot be seen under the surface, hydrologists can
deduce the flow by understanding the characteristics, including permeability,
of the soil and bedrock; how water behaves near other sources of water,
such as rivers and oceans; and fluid flow models based on water movements
on the earth's surface.

Hydrology is also important to the study of water pollution, especially of

groundwater and other potable water supplies. Knowledge of hydrology is
extensively used to determine the movement and extent of contamination
from landfills, mine runof, and other potentially contaminated sites to
surface and subsurface water.

Hydrology has been a subject of investigation and engineering for millennia.
For example, about 4000 B.C. the Nile was dammed to improve agricultural
productivity of previously barren lands. Mesopotamian towns were protected
from flooding with high earthen walls. Aqueducts were built by
the Greeks and Ancient Romans, while the history of China shows they built
irrigation and flood control works. The ancient Sinhalese used hydrology to
build complex irrigation works in Sri Lanka, also known for invention of the
Valve Pit which allowed construction of large reservoirs, anicuts and canals
which still function.

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Marcus Vitruvius, in the first century B.C., described a philosophical theory of
the hydrologic cycle, in which precipitation falling in the mountains infiltrated
the Earth's surface and led to streams and springs in the lowlands. With
adoption of a more scientific approach, Leonardo da Vinci and Bernard
Palissy independently reached an accurate representation of the hydrologic
cycle. It was not until the 17th century that hydrologic variables began to be

Pioneers of the modern science of hydrology include Pierre Perrault, Edme

Mariotte and Edmund Halley. By measuring rainfall, runof, and drainage
area, Perrault showed that rainfall was sufficient to account for flow.
Marriotte combined velocity and river cross-section measurements to obtain
discharge. Halley showed that the evaporation from the Mediterranean Sea
was sufficient to account for the outflow of rivers flowing into the sea.

Advances in the 18th century included

the Bernoulli piezometer and Bernoulli's equation, by Daniel Bernoulli,
the Pitot tube. The 19th century saw development in groundwater hydrology,
including Darcy's law, the Dupuit-Thiem well formula, and Hagen-Poiseuille's
capillary flow equation.

Rational analyses began to replace empiricism in the 20th century, while

governmental agencies began their own hydrological research programs. Of
particular importance were Leroy Sherman's unit hydrograph, the infiltration
theory of Robert E. Horton, and C.V. Theis's aquifer test/equation describing
well hydraulics.

Since the 1950s, hydrology has been approached with a more theoretical
basis than in the past, facilitated by advances in the physical understanding
of hydrological processes and by the advent of computers and
especially geographic information systems (GIS).


Chemical hydrology is the study of the chemical characteristics of

Ecohydrology is the study of interactions between organisms and the
hydrologic cycle.
Hydrogeology is the study of the presence and movement of ground
Hydroinformatics is the adaptation of information technology to
hydrology and water resources applications.
Hydrometeorology is the study of the transfer of water and energy
between land and water body surfaces and the lower atmosphere.

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Surface hydrology is the study of hydrologic processes that operate at
or near Earth's surface.
Drainage basin management covers water-storage, in the form of
reservoirs, and flood-protection.
Water quality includes the chemistry of water in rivers and lakes, both
of pollutants and natural solutes.
Oceanography is the more general study of water in the oceans and
Meteorology is the more general study of the atmosphere and of
weather, including precipitation as snow and rainfall.
Limnology is the study of lakes. It covers the biological, chemical,
physical, geological, and other attributes of all inland waters (running
and standing waters, both fresh and saline, natural or man-made).

Water resources are sources of water that are useful or potentially

useful. Hydrology studies the availability of those resources, but
usually not their uses.


1. Determining the water balance of a region.

2. Determining the agricultural water balance.
3. Designing riparian restoration projects.
4. Mitigating and predicting flood, landslide and drought risk.
5. Real-time flood forecasting and flood warning.
6. Designing irrigation schemes and managing agricultural productivity.
7. Part of the hazard module in catastrophe modeling.
8. Providing drinking water.
9. Designing dams for water supply or hydroelectric power generation.
10. Designing bridges.
11. Designing sewers and urban drainage system.
12. Analyzing the impacts of antecedent moisture on sanitary sewer
13. Predicting geomorphological changes, such
as erosion or sedimentation.
14. Assessing the impacts of natural and environmental change
on water resources.
15. Assessing contaminant transport risk and establishing
environmental policy guidelines.

The central theme of hydrology is that water circulates throughout the Earth
through diferent pathways and at diferent rates. The most vivid image of
this is in the evaporation of water from the ocean, which forms clouds. These
clouds drift over the land and produce rain. The rainwater flows into lakes,

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rivers, or aquifers. The water in lakes, rivers, and aquifers then either
evaporates back to the atmosphere or eventually flows back to the ocean,
completing a cycle. Water changes its state of being several times
throughout this cycle.

The areas of research within hydrology concern the movement of water

between its various states, or within a given state, or simply quantifying the
amounts in these states in a given region. Parts of hydrology concern
developing methods for directly measuring these flows or amounts of water,
while others concern modelling these processes either for scientific
knowledge or for making prediction in practical applications.

Water is one of our most important natural resources. Without it, there would
be no life on earth. The supply of water available for our use is limited by
nature. Although there is plenty of water on earth, it is not always in the right
place, at the right time and of the right quality. Adding to the problem is the
increasing evidence that chemical wastes improperly discarded yesterday
are showing up in our water supplies today. Hydrology has evolved as a
science in response to the need to understand the complex water
systems of the Earth and help solve water problems. Hydrologists play
a vital role in finding solutions to water problems, and interesting and
challenging careers are available to those who choose to study hydrology.


1. Hydrologists apply scientific knowledge and mathematical principles to

solve water-related problems in society: problems of quantity, quality
and availability.

2. They may be concerned with finding water supplies for cities or

irrigated farms, or controlling river flooding or soil erosion.

3. They may work in environmental protection: preventing or cleaning up

pollution or locating sites for safe disposal of hazardous wastes.

4. Hydrologists do many things such as interpreting hydrologic data and

performing analyses for determining possible water supplies.

5. Hydrologists help cities by collecting and analyzing the data needed to

predict how much water is available from local supplies and whether it
will be sufficient to meet the city's projected future needs.

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6. Hydrologists use topographic maps and aerial photographs to
determine where the reservoir shorelines will be and to calculate
reservoir depths and storage capacity. This work ensures that, even at
maximum capacity, no highways, railroads or homes would be flooded.

7. Hydrologists assist public health officials in monitoring public water

supplies to ensure that health standards are met. When pollution is
discovered, environmental engineers work with hydrologists in making
the necessary sampling program.

8. Hydrologists estimate the volume of water stored underground by

measuring water levels in local wells and by examining geologic
records from well-drilling to determine the extent, depth and thickness
of water-bearing sediments and rocks.

9. Hydrologists determine the most efficient pumping rate by monitoring

the extent that water levels drop in the pumped well and in its nearest
neighbors. Pumping the well too fast could cause it to go dry or could
interfere with neighboring wells.

10. Hydrologists provide guidance in the location of monitoring wells

around waste disposal sites and sample them at regular intervals to
determine if undesirable leachate--contaminated water containing
toxic or hazardous chemicals--is reaching the ground water. In polluted
areas, hydrologists may collect soil and water samples to identify the
type and extent of contamination.

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Evaporation is the process of a liquid becoming vaporized. In other

words, a change in phase in the atmosphere occurs when substances change
from a liquid to a gaseous, or vapor, form. Because we are talking about
atmospheric processes that drive the weather, we will refer to the
evaporation of water although other liquids can evaporate into the air. Also
note that solids can evaporate, or be transformed into a gas, but in
meteorology, this is generally referred to as sublimation.

Evaporation is the process by which water is converted from its liquid

form to its vapor form and thus transferred from land and water masses to
the atmosphere. Evaporation from the oceans accounts for 80% of the water
delivered as precipitation, with the balance occurring on land, inland waters
and plant surfaces.

Wind speed: the higher the wind speed, the more evaporation

Temperature: the higher the temperature, the more evaporation

Humidity: the lower the humidity, the more evaporation

Pan evaporation is a measurement that combines or integrates the

efects of several climate elements: temperature, humidity, rain fall, drought
dispersion, solar radiation, and wind. Evaporation is greatest on hot, windy,
dry, sunny days; and is greatly reduced when clouds block the sun and when
air is cool, calm, and humid. Pan evaporation measurements enable farmers
and ranchers to understand how much water their crops will need.

An evaporation pan is used to hold water during observations for the

determination of the quantity of evaporation at a given location. Such pans
are of varying sizes and shapes, the most commonly used being circular or
square. The best known of the pans are the "Class A" evaporation pan and
the "Sunken Colorado Pan". In Europe, India and South Africa, a Symon's Pan
(or sometimes Symon's Tank) is used. Often the evaporation pans are
automated with water level sensors and a small weather station is located

A variety of evaporation pans are used throughout the world. There are
formulas for converting from one type of pan to another and to measures
representative of the environment .Also, research has been done about the

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installation practices of evaporation pans so that they can make more
reliable and repeatable measurements.

Class A evaporation pan

In the United States, the National Weather Service has standardized its
measurements on the Class A evaporation pan, a cylinder with a diameter of
47.5 in (120.7 cm) that has a depth of 10 in (25 cm). The pan rests on a
carefully leveled, wooden base and is often enclosed by a chain link fence to
prevent animals drinking from it.

Evaporation is measured daily as the depth of water (in inches) evaporates

from the pan. The measurement day begins with the pan filled to exactly two
inches (5 cm) from the pan top. At the end of 24 hours, the amount of water
to refill the pan to exactly two inches from its top is measured.

If precipitation occurs in the 24-hour period, it is taken into account in

calculating the evaporation. Sometimes precipitation is greater than
evaporation, and measured increments of water must be dipped from the
pan. Evaporation cannot be measured in a Class A pan when the pan's water
surface is frozen.

The Class A Evaporation Pan is of limited use on days with rainfall events of
>30mm (203mm rain gauge) unless it is emptied more than once per
24hours. Analysis of the daily rainfall and evaporation readings in areas with
regular heavy rainfall events shows that almost without fail, on days with
rainfall in excess of 30mm (203mm Rain Gauge) the daily evaporation is
spuriously higher than other days in the same month where conditions more
receptive to evaporation prevailed.

The most common and obvious error is in daily rainfall events of >55mm
(203mm rain gauge) where the Class A Evaporation pan will likely overflow.

The less obvious, and therefore more concerning, is the influence of heavy or
intense rainfall causing spuriously high daily evaporation totals without
obvious overflow.

Sunken Colorado pan

The sunken Colorado pan is square, 1 m (3 ft) on a side and 0.5 m (18 in.)
deep and made of unpainted galvanized iron. As the name suggests, it is

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buried in the ground to within about 5 cm (2 in.) of its rim. Evaporation from
a Sunken Colorado Pan can be compared with a Class A pan using conversion
constants. The pan coefficient, on an annual basis, is about 0.8.

Decreasing Trend of Pan Evaporation

Over the last 50 or so years, pan evaporation has been carefully monitored.
For decades, nobody took much notice of the pan evaporation
measurements. But in the 1990s scientists spotted something that at the
time was considered very strange; the rate of evaporation was falling. This
trend has been observed all over the world except in a few places where it
has increased.

As the global climate warms, all other things being equal, evaporation will
increase and as a result, the hydrological cycle will accelerate. The
downward trend of pan evaporation has been linked to a phenomenon
called global dimming. In 2005 Wild et al. and Pinker et al. found that the
"dimming" trend had reversed since about 1990

Lake Evaporation vs. Pan Evaporation

Pan evaporation is used to estimate the evaporation from lakes. There is a

correlation between lake evaporation and pan evaporation. Evaporation from
a natural body of water is usually at a lower rate because the body of water
does not have metal sides that get hot with the sun, and while light
penetration in a pan is essentially uniform, light penetration in natural bodies
of water will decrease as depth increases. Most textbooks suggest
multiplying the pan evaporation by 0.75 to correct for this.

Relationship to Hydrological Cycle

"It is generally agreed that the evaporation from pans has been decreasing
for the past half century over many regions of the Earth. However, the
significance of this negative trend, as regards terrestrial evaporation, is still
somewhat controversial, and its implications for the global hydrologic cycle
remain unclear.

The controversy stems from the alternative views that these evaporative
changes resulted, either from global radiative dimming, or from the
complementary relationship between pan and terrestrial evaporation.
Actually, these factors are not mutually exclusive but act concurrently."

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Water and other liquids evaporate at diferent rates. These rates are
influenced by the temperature, humidity, air flow and surface area of the
liquid that is exposed to the air. While a liquid's evaporation rate may vary
with conditions, the evaporation rates of diferent liquids are stable relative
to each other. For instance, if identical amounts of ethanol and water are
kept in identical open containers and exposed to identical environmental
conditions, the ethanol will always evaporate faster because it has a lower
boiling point. Calculating the evaporation rate for a given set of conditions is
a simple thing to do.


ranspiration can be defined as the process by which water is lost from
plants to the atmosphere. It is the evaporation of water from plants
and can be thought of as plants "breathing". This is loss of water
vapor through leaves and/or stems. Most transpiration occurs through
the stomata.

During a growing season, a leaf will transpire many times more water than
its own weight. For example a large oak tree can transpire 40,000 gallons of
water per year. About 10 percent of the earth's atmospheric moisture can be
attributed to plant transpiration. The rest is supplied by evaporation and the
water cycle.

Transpiration is a biological process necessary for plant life which uses about
90% of the water absorbed by the roots of the plant. Only about 10% of the
water taken up is used for chemical reactions and tissue formation in the


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Water is lost from the stomata of the plant. Stomata are pores found in
the epidermis of the underside of leaves. They are located on the lower
surface of leaves to reduce water loss due to minimized solar radiation. The
moist air in these spaces has a higher water potential than the outside air,
and water tends to evaporate from the leaf surface. The stomata act as
pumps which pull water and nutrients from the roots through the
rest of the plant to the leaves in a phenomenon known as
transpirational pull.

Transpirational pull drives water flow in the plant. Water is absorbed by the
root hairs of a plant and is passed through vascular tissues where it is
transported to the leaves and stomata. Vascular tissue is made of more than
one cell type and in plants consists of the xylem and phloem. These carry
water and nutrients throughout the plant along vascular bundles of cells
arranged end to end to form long, narrow conduits.


Transpiration occurs during photosynthesis when the stomata open for the
passage of carbon dioxide gas. Carbon dioxide is a necessary component of
photosynthesis that the plant must get from their environment. Water
transported to the leaves is converted to a gas. As carbon dioxide is allowed
into the leaf, water vapors escape through evaporation to the atmosphere.
Plants lack membranes that are permeable to carbon dioxide and
impermeable to water making transpiration an inevitable consequence of


There are several reasons why plants utilize transpiration.

1. The direct efect of transpiration is to regulate the temperature of the

plant and to provide water for photosynthesis.
2. It also serves to move nutrients and sugars through the vascular
tissues of the plant.
3. Plants sweat through transpiration. The water that dissipates into the
atmosphere pulls excess heat with it away from the plant. This reduces
overheating and cools the leaves.
4. Water is one of the substances needed for photosynthesis and must be
pumped from the roots of the plant. The "engine" pulling water and
nutrients up the plant is transpiration.

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5. Nutrients are absorbed from the soil and moved throughout the plant's
cells by way of transpiration. The minerals distributed during this
process are necessary for biosynthesis in the leaves.


There are many environmental factors that can afect the rate of
transpiration. Five of the most important are light, temperature, humidity,
wind, and soil water.

Light stimulates the opening of the stomata at daybreak. As the stomata

opens to allow photosynthesis to occur, the transpiration rate

With light comes heat. The leaf can be heated by the temperature of the
environment and also by the heat released during photosynthesis.
Transpiration provides a cooling mechanism for the plant to release excess
heat in the leaves and maintain internal temperature necessary for biological
and chemical processes to occur. Transpiration occurs more quickly at
higher temperatures due to increased evaporation. Summer tends to
be a time of decreased transpiration in plants because of increased
temperature. A diference of 10C can lead to three times the amount of
transpiration in a leaf.

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In dry climates transpiration is increased. Water is forced to difuse more
rapidly into the air due to the concentration diference between the
environments outside and inside the plant. Low humidity creates a vapor
gradient between the plant and the air. In dry air, there is a lack of water,
forcing water to be pulled from the plant to the atmosphere increasing
transpiration. Therefore, in humid climates, transpiration is less
effected by diffusion.

On windy days the moisture present in the air is swept away from
the leaf causing it to transpire more. On calmer days, the humidity rate
can rise causing a decrease in transpiration.

The amount of water in the soil also plays a major role in the rate of
transpiration. The plant must have a continuous supply of water to be
able to transpire. If adequate water cannot be absorbed by the roots and
carried up the xylem, the rate of transpiration will decrease. A lack of water

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supply will also decrease the rate of photosynthesis and the overall health of
the plant.


Transpiration can be hazardous to plants if there is a higher rate of

transpiration than rate of moisture absorption through the roots.
This is called moisture stress or plant stress. Even well watered plants may
wilt if the plant cannot adapt it transpiration rate.


As discussed, environmental factors can play a large role in the rate of

transpiration. Plants in hot arid environments have found ways of limiting
their water loss to avoid dehydration.

Some of the adaptations desert plants use are:

1. absence of leaves
2. stomata that can open and close or that only open at night,
3. special water storage capabilities
4. alternative root structures

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ondensation is the process by which water vapor in the air is
changed into liquid water. Condensation is crucial to the water cycle
because it is responsible for the formation of clouds. These clouds
may produce precipitation, which is the primary route for water to
return to the Earth's surface within the water cycle. Condensation is the
opposite of evaporation.

You don't have to look at something as far away as a cloud to notice

condensation, though. Condensation is responsible for ground-level fog, for
your glasses fogging up when you go from a cold room to the outdoors on a
hot, humid day, for the water that drips of the outside of your glass of iced
tea, and for the water on the inside of the windows in your home on a cold

The phase change that accompanies water as it moves between its vapor,
liquid, and solid form happens because of diferences in the arrangement of
water molecules. Water molecules in the vapor form are arranged more
randomly than in liquid water. As condensation occurs and liquid water forms
from the vapor, the water molecules become organized in a less random
structure, which is less random than in vapor, and heat is released into the
atmosphere as a result.

Condensation in the air

Even though clouds are absent in a crystal clear blue sky, water is still
present in the form of water vapor and droplets which are too small to be
seen. Depending on weather conditions, water molecules will combine with
tiny particles of dust, salt, and smoke in the air to form cloud droplets, which
grow and develop into clouds, a form of water we can see. Cloud droplets
can vary greatly in size, from 10 microns (millionths of a meter) to 1
millimeter (mm), and even as large as 5 mm.

This process occurs higher in the sky where the air is cooler and more
condensation occurs relative to evaporation. As water droplets combine (also
known as coalescence) with each other, and grow in size, clouds not only
develop, but precipitation may also occur. Precipitation is essentially water in
its liquid or solid form falling from the base of a cloud. This seems to happen

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too often during picnics or when large groups of people gather at swimming

The clouds formed by condensation are an intricate and critical component

of Earth's environment. Clouds regulate the flow of radiant energy into
and out of Earth's climate system. They influence the Earth's climate by
reflecting incoming solar radiation (heat) back to space and outgoing
radiation (terrestrial) from the Earth's surface. Often at night, clouds act as a
"blanket," keeping a portion of the day's heat next to the surface. Changing
cloud patterns modify the Earth's energy balance, and, in turn, temperatures
on the Earth's surface.

Clouds form in the atmosphere because air containing water vapor rises and
cools. The key to this process is that air near the Earth's surface is warmed
by solar radiation.

Why does the atmosphere cool above the Earth's surface? Generally, air
pressure, is the reason. Air has mass (and, because of gravity on Earth,
weight) and at sea level the weight of a column of air pressing down on your
head is about 14 pounds (6.6 kilograms) per square inch. The pressure
(weight), called barometric pressure, that results is a consequence of the
density of the air above.

At higher altitudes, there is less air above, and, thus, less air
pressure pressing down. The barometric pressure is lower, and
lower barometric pressure is associated with fewer molecules per
unit volume. Therefore, the air at higher altitudes is less dense.
Since fewer air molecules exist in a certain volume of air, there are
fewer molecules colliding with each other, and as a result, there will
be less heat produced. This means cooler air.

Condensation near the ground

Condensation also occurs at ground level. The diference between fog and
clouds which form above the Earth's surface is that rising air is not required
to form fog. Fog develops when air having a relatively high humidity content
(i.e., moist) comes in contact with a colder surface, often the Earth's surface,
and cools to the dew point. Additional cooling leads to condensation and the
growth of low-level clouds. Fog that develops when warmer air moves over a
colder surface is known as advective fog. Another form of fog, known as
radiative fog, develops at night when surface temperatures cool. If the air
is still, the fog layer does not readily mix with the air above it, which
encourages the development of shallow ground fog.

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Air, even "clear air," contains water molecules. Clouds exist in the
atmosphere because of rising air. As air rises and cools the water in it can
"condense out", forming clouds. Since clouds drift over the landscape, they
are one of the ways that water moves geographically around the globe in the
water cycle.

What appears to be cloud-free air (virtually) always contains sub microscopic

drops, but as evaporation exceeds condensation, the drops do not survive
long after an initial chance clumping of molecules. As air is cooled, the
evaporation rate decreases more rapidly than does the condensation rate
with the result that there comes a temperature (the dew point
temperature) where the evaporation is less than the condensation and a
droplet can grow into a cloud drop. When the temperature drops below the
dew-point temperature, there is a net condensation and a cloud forms.

Cloud-like trails that high-flying airplanes leave behind are called contrails.
They were called that because they are actually condensation trails and, in
fact, are not much diferent than natural clouds. If the exhaust from the
airplane contains water vapor, and if the air is very cold (which it often is at
high altitudes), then the water vapor in the exhaust will condense out into
what is essentially a cirrus cloud.

Condensation causes clouds. Cloud is defined as "a visible mass of

condensed watery vapor floating in the air at some considerable height
above the general surface of the ground."

A modest-size cloud, one kilometer in diameter and 100 meters

thick, has a mass equivalent to one B-747 jumbo jet. But, with all
that mass being spread over such a large volume of space, the
density, or weight (mass) for any chosen volume, is very small. If
you compressed that cloud into a trash bag, well, in that case, you
would not want to be standing below it. Even though a cloud
weighs tons, it doesn't fall on you because the rising air responsible
for its formation keeps the cloud floating in the air. The air below
the cloud is denser than the cloud, thus the cloud floats on top of
the denser air nearer the land surface.

( Cecil Adams,

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nywhere in the world, a portion of the water that falls as rain and
snow infiltrates into the subsurface soil and rock. How much
infiltrates depends greatly on a number of factors. Some water that
infiltrates will remain in the shallow soil layer, where it will gradually
move vertically and horizontally through the soil and subsurface material.
Eventually, it might enter a stream by seepage into the stream bank. Some
of the water may infiltrate deeper, recharging groundwater aquifers. If the
aquifers are porous enough to allow water to move freely through it, people
can drill wells into the aquifer and use the water for their purposes. Water
may travel long distances or remain in groundwater storage for long periods
before returning to the surface or seeping into other water bodies, such as
streams and the oceans.

Factors afecting infiltration:

Precipitation: The greatest factor controlling infiltration is the amount

and characteristics (intensity, duration, etc.) of precipitation that falls
as rain or snow. Precipitation that infiltrates into the ground often
seeps into streambeds over an extended period of time, thus a stream
will often continue to flow when it hasn't rained for a long time and
where there is no direct runof from recent precipitation.

Soil characteristics: Some soils, such as clays, absorb less water at a

slower rate than sandy soils. Soils absorbing less water result in more
runof overland into streams.

Soil saturation: Like a wet sponge, soil already saturated from

previous rainfall can't absorb much more, thus more rainfall will
become surface runof.

Land cover: Some land covers have a great impact on infiltration and
rainfall runof. Vegetation can slow the movement of runof, allowing
more time for it to seep into the ground. Impervious surfaces, such as
parking lots, roads, and developments, act as a "fast lane" for rainfall -
right into storm drains that drain directly into streams. Agriculture and
the tillage of land also changes the infiltration patterns of a landscape.
Water that, in natural conditions, infiltrated directly into soil now runs
of into streams.

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Slope of the land: Water falling on steeply-sloped land runs of more
quickly and infiltrates less than water falling on flat land.

Evapotranspiration: Some infiltration stays near the land surface,

which is where plants put down their roots. Plants need this shallow
groundwater to grow, and, by the process of evapotranspiration, water
is moved back into the atmosphere.

As precipitation infiltrates into the subsurface soil, it generally forms an

unsaturated zone and a saturated zone. In the unsaturated zone, the voids
that is, the spaces between grains of gravel, sand, silt, clay, and cracks
within rockscontain both air and water. Although a lot of water can be
present in the unsaturated zone, this water cannot be pumped by wells
because it is held too tightly by capillary forces.

The upper part of the unsaturated zone is the soil-water zone. The soil
zone is crisscrossed by roots, openings left by decayed roots, and animal and
worm burrows, which allow the precipitation to infiltrate into the soil zone.
Water in the soil is used by plants in life functions and leaf transpiration, but
it also can evaporate directly to the atmosphere. Below the unsaturated zone
is a saturated zone where water completely fills the voids between rock and
soil particles.

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People all over the world make great use of the water in underground
aquifers all over the world. In fact, in some places, they pump water out of
the aquifer faster than nature replenishes it. In these cases, the water table,
below which the soil is saturated and possibly able to yield enough water
that can be pumped to the surface, can be lowered by the excessive
pumping. Wells can "go dry" and become useless.

In places where the water table is close to the land surface and where water
can move through the aquifer at a high rate, aquifers can be replenished
artificially. Aquifers may be artificially recharged in two main ways:

Rapid-infiltration pits: One way is to spread water over the land in

pits, furrows, or ditches, or to erect small dams in stream channels to
detain and deflect surface runof, thereby allowing it to infiltrate to the

Groundwater injection: The other way is to construct recharge wells

and inject water directly into an aquifer

Some of the precipitation that falls onto the land infiltrates into the
ground to become groundwater. Once in the ground, some of this water
travels close to the land surface and emerges very quickly as discharge into
streambeds, but, because of gravity, much of it continues to sink deeper into

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the ground. If the water meets the water table (below which the soil is
saturated), it can move both vertically and horizontally.

Water moving downward can also meet more dense and water-resistant non-
porous rock and soil, which causes it to flow in a more horizontal fashion,
generally towards streams, the ocean, or deeper into the ground.


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arge amounts of water are stored in the ground. The water is still
moving, possibly very slowly, and it is still part of the water cycle.
Most of the water in the ground comes from precipitation that
infiltrates downward from the land surface. The upper layer of the soil
is the unsaturated zone, where water is present in varying amounts that
change over time, but does not saturate the soil.

Below this layer is the saturated zone, where all of the pores, cracks, and
spaces between rock particles are saturated with water. The term
groundwater is used to describe this area. Another term for groundwater is
"aquifer," although this term is usually used to describe water-bearing
formations capable of yielding enough water to supply peoples' uses.
Aquifers are a huge storehouse of Earth's water and people all over the world
depend on groundwater in their daily lives.

The top of the surface where groundwater occurs is called the water table.
Aquifers are replenished by the seepage of precipitation that falls on the
land, but there are many geologic, meteorologic, topographic, and human
factors that determine the extent and rate to which aquifers are refilled with
water. Rocks have diferent porosity and permeability characteristics, which
means that water does not move around the same way in all rocks. Thus, the
characteristics of groundwater recharge vary all over the world.

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In an aquifer, the soil and rock is saturated with water. If the aquifer is
shallow enough and permeable enough to allow water to move through it at
a rapid-enough rate, then people can drill wells into it and withdraw water.
The level of the water table can naturally change over time due to changes
in weather cycles and precipitation patterns, streamflow and geologic
changes, and even human-induced changes, such as the increase in
impervious surfaces, such as roads and paved areas, on the landscape.

The pumping of wells can have a great deal of influence on water levels
below ground, especially in the vicinity of the well. If water is withdrawn from
the ground at a faster rate that it is replenished by precipitation infiltration
and seepage from streams, then the water table can become lower, resulting
in a "cone of depression" around the well.

If groundwater wants to be a member in good standing of the water cycle,

then it can't be totally static and stay where it is. The direction and speed of
groundwater movement is determined by the various characteristics of
aquifers and confining layers of subsurface rocks (which water has a difficult
time penetrating) in the ground. Water moving below ground depends on the
permeability (how easy or difficult it is for water to move) and on the porosity
(the amount of open space in the material) of the subsurface rock.

If the rock has characteristics that allow water to move relatively freely
through it, then groundwater can move significant distances in a number of
days. But groundwater can also sink into deep aquifers where it takes
thousands of years to move back into the environment, or even go into deep
groundwater storage, where it might stay for much longer periods.

Artesian well water is not really diferent from non-artesian well water - but it
comes to the surface in a diferent manner. In the diagram above, you can
see that there are unconfined and confined aquifers in the ground. The
confinement of water in an aquifer, which can result in pressure, determines
if water coming from it is artesian or not. Wells drilled into confined aquifers
can yield artesian water.

Unconfined aquifers: In unconfined aquifers, water has simply

infiltrated from the surface and saturated the subsurface material. If
people drill a well into an unconfined aquifer, they have to install a
pump to push water to the surface.

Confined aquifers: Confined aquifers have layers of rock above and

below it that are not very permeable to water. Natural pressure in the
aquifer can exist; pressure which can sometimes be enough to push
water in a well above the land surface.

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he oceans are kept full by precipitation and also by runof and
discharge from rivers and the ground. Many people probably have an
overly-simplified idea that precipitation falls on the land, flows
overland (runof), and runs into rivers, which then empty into the
oceans. That is "overly simplified" because rivers also gain and lose water to
the ground. Still, it is true that much of the water in rivers comes directly
from runof from the land surface, which is defined as surface runoff.

When rain hits saturated or impervious ground it begins to flow overland

downhill. It is easy to see if it flows down your driveway to the curb and into
a storm sewer, but it is harder to notice it flowing overland in a natural
setting. Water will flow along channels as it moves into larger creeks,
streams, and rivers.

As with all aspects of the water cycle, the interaction between precipitation
and surface runof varies according to time and geography. Surface runof is
afected by both meteorological factors and the physical geology and
topography of the land. Only about a third of the precipitation that falls over
land runs of into streams and rivers and is returned to the oceans. The other
two-thirds is evaporated, transpired, or soaks (infiltrates) into groundwater.
Surface runof can also be diverted by humans for their own uses.

Meteorological factors affecting runoff:

Type of precipitation

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Rainfall intensity

Rainfall amount

Rainfall duration

Distribution of rainfall over the drainage basin

Direction of storm movement

Precipitation that occurred earlier and resulting soil moisture

Other meteorological and climatic conditions that afect

evapotranspiration, such as temperature, wind, relative humidity, and

Physical characteristics affecting runoff:

Land use


Soil type

Drainage area

Basin shape


Topography, especially the slope of the land

Drainage network patterns

Ponds, lakes, reservoirs, sinks, etc. in the basin, which prevent or delay
runof from continuing downstream

Human activities can affect runoff

As more and more people inhabit the Earth, and as more development and
urbanization occur, more of the natural landscape is replaced by impervious
surfaces, such as roads, houses, parking lots, and buildings that reduce
infiltration of water into the ground and accelerate runof to ditches and

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In addition to increasing imperviousness, removal of vegetation and soil,
grading the land surface, and constructing drainage networks increase runof
volumes and shorten runof time into streams from rainfall and snowmelt. As
a result, the peak discharge, volume, and frequency of floods increase in
nearby streams.


hen precipitation falls onto a vegetated surface, only a part may
actually reach the ground beneath. Depending upon the nature
and density of the vegetation cover a proportion of the rain may
be intercepted by the leaves and stems of the vegetation canopy
and temporarily stored on its surfaces. Some, or all, of this water may be
evaporated back into the atmosphere, and so take no part in the land-bound
portion of the hydrological cycle; this is termed as the interception loss.

The remaining water which reaches the ground constitutes the net rainfall.
The bulk of this comprises throughfall consisting of raindrops that fall
through spaces in the vegetation canopy and water which drips from wet
leaves, twigs and stems to the ground surface; a generally much smaller
amount of water trickles along twigs and branches to run down the main
stem or trunk to the ground as stemflow.

Measuring Interception

The most common method of measuring interception loss (I) in the field is to
compute the diference between the precipitation above the vegetation layer
(P) and the net precipitation below the vegetation canopy, comprising the
throughfall (T) and stemflow (S).


Throughfall may be measured using funnel or trough gauges placed beneath

the forest canopy and stemflow may be collected by small gutters sealed
around the circumference of the trunk leading into a collecting container.

Factors afecting throughfall:

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1. Canopy coverage
2. Leaf area index (LAI)
3. Leaf surface smoothness

Factors afecting stemflow

1. Branch orientation
2. Roughness of the bark

Factors affecting interception loss from vegetation

If rain falls over a dry vegetation, the interception loss is usually greatest at
the beginning of the storm and reduces with time. This largely reflects the
changing state of the interception storage of the vegetation cover, namely
the ability of the vegetation surfaces to collect and retain falling

At first, when all the leaves and twigs or stems are dry, the interception
storage capacity, is at its maximum, and a very large percentage of
precipitation is prevented from reaching the ground.

The duration of rainfall is another factor that influences interception by

determining the balance between the reduced storage of water on the
vegetation surfaces, on one hand, and increased evaporative losses, on the

Interception loss is also afected by the type of precipitation including the

size distribution of drops and particularly by the contrast between rain and

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