Hydrogeology is one of the rare disciplines that focuses on the interaction between two media: earth and water. The surface of our planet is covered by more water than land; and where land does exist, it is often saturated at various depths below the ground surface. This saturation, as well as reduced levels of moisture in overlying unsaturated geologic materials (e.g., sediments, bedrock, etc.), is known as groundwater.
Groundwater is used to supply drinking water to approximately 50% of the world’s population; it also supplies over 40% of the water used for irrigation. Hydrogeologists help solve challenges associated with the quantity and quality of this resource that are critical to our drinking water and food.
Groundwater is recharged by precipitation that infiltrates the ground and is pulled downward by gravity before completely saturating the rock voids. This saturated condition happens when the downward-percolating water encounters a rock or zone that is resistant (i.e., relatively impermeable) to further downward flow. Groundwater pools above this “confining layer” and then flows laterally across its surface.
When the saturated rock is transmissive (thick and permeable) enough to yield usable amounts of water, it is referred to as an aquifer. Wells are drilled into aquifers; pumps then convey groundwater to drinking water and irrigation systems.
Why is Hydrogeology Important?
In the absence of pumping wells, groundwater in aquifers tends to flow toward—and then discharge into—nearby creeks, streams, and rivers. This discharge often occurs as seepage through the beds and banks of these surface water features and is driven by gravity which ultimately draws water on the land back to the ocean. This flow of precipitation, infiltration, discharge, and drainage to the ocean recurs, or cycles, as energy from the sun evaporates ocean water, which leads again to precipitation on the land. This flow cycle is known as the “hydrologic cycle.”
Hydrogeology (also known as “geohydrology” or “groundwater hydrology”) requires an understanding of the science of hydrology and the effects of human activity on water. While hydrologists frequently focus on the surface aspects of water such as rainfall, runoff, drought, flooding, and river and channel flow, hydrogeologists frequently focus on the subsurface aspects of groundwater flow such as yield, hydraulic conductivity, and transmissivity. Because there is significant “hydraulic communication” between surface water and groundwater systems, there is significant collaboration between hydrogeologists and hydrologists.
How Do Hydrogeologists Recover and Protect the Water Supply?
Hydrogeologists are uniquely concerned with the quality and quantity of groundwater. To this end, hydrogeologists seek to understand recharge and discharge scenarios, spatial distribution of chemical and physical characteristics of the geologic media, and human activities that can influence groundwater occurrence, movement, and quality.
Cameron-Cole hydrogeologists rigorously develop this understanding to help creatively solve a variety of challenges including design and implementation of water well networks, infiltration galleries, aquifer replenishment programs, geothermal energy systems, and remediation strategies for contaminated aquifers. We are at the industry forefront in our use of microbe varieties and amendments to efficiently remediate a variety of groundwater contaminants. Our hydrogeologists use cutting-edge methods including conceptual models, groundwater flow modeling, and contaminant transport to develop creative, holistic solutions to hydrogeological problems.
How Do Hydrogeologists Look Forward?
Cameron Cole hydrogeologists work with industrial, government, agricultural, land development, oil and gas, energy, and utility providers to recover, protect, and prosper their groundwater and related assets. We are currently offering clients vulnerability assessments and remedial planning support for PFAS and PFOA—a fast-moving contaminant associated with many industrial processes—and vapor intrusion risk associated with contaminant plumes migrating beneath or near inhabited buildings.
Our teams communicate concepts, risks, opportunity, and remedial strategies in a manner that builds trust and understanding as well as expedites regulatory and public approval. As the freshwater supply continues to diminish due to growing pressure from food production, urbanization, and climate change, we will continue our work to creatively and effectively protect and advance the groundwater-related interests of our clients and society.