Water Table

The water table is the surface where the water pressure head is equal to the atmospheric pressure (where gauge pressure = 0). It may be conveniently visualized as the 'surface' of the subsurface materials that are saturated with groundwater in a given vicinity. However, saturated conditions may extend above the water table as surface tension holds water in some pores below atmospheric pressure. Individual points on the water table are typically measured as the elevation that the water rises to in a well screened in the shallow groundwater.

The groundwater may be from infiltrating precipitation or from groundwater flowing into the aquifer. In areas with sufficient precipitation, water infiltrates through pore spaces in the soil, passing through the unsaturated zone. At increasing depths water fills in more of the pore spaces in the soils, until the zone of saturation is reached. In permeable or porous materials, such as sands and well fractured bedrock, the water table forms a relatively horizontal plane. Below the water table, in the phreatic zone, permeable units that yield groundwater are called aquifers. The ability of the aquifer to store groundwater is dependent on the primary and secondary porosity and permeability of the rock or soil. In less permeable soils, such as tight bedrock formations and historic lakebed deposits, the water table may be more difficult to define.

The water table should not be confused with the water level in a deeper well. If a deeper aquifer has a lower permeable unit that confines the upward flow, then the water level in a well screened in this aquifer may rise to a level that is greater or less than the elevation of the actual water table. The elevation of the water in this deeper well is dependent upon the pressure in the deeper aquifer and is referred to as the potentiometric surface, not the water table.

Read more about Water Table:  Form, Effects On Climate

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