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Understanding Surface Water and Groundwater Interactions

Graphing Spring Flow in the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer, Texas

Developed by Joel Stevens1, Murry Fly2, Katherine Ellins3 and Mark England4

1. NSF-GK-12 Fellow, The University of Texas at Austin Institute for Geophysics
2. Science Teacher, Westlake High School, Eanes ISD, Texas (now at Bowie High School, Austin ISD)
3. Institute for Geophysics, Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin
4. Science Teacher, Pflugerville High School, Pflugerville ISD, Texas

How to cite this work: Stevens, J., M. Fly, M. England, and K. K. Ellins (2011), Understanding Surface Water and Groundwater Interactions: Graphing Spring Flow in the Barton Springs Segment of The Edwards Aquifer, Texas, TXESS Revolution,, Date Accessed.


In this activity students examine the relationship between surface water and groundwater using precipitation and groundwater discharge data collected at Barton Springs in Austin, Texas. Barton Springs is part of the Edwards Aquifer system, a karst aquifer that provides much of the water supply for San Antonio and other parts of central Texas. Students create graphs to examine the impact of rainfall on groundwater discharge at Barton Springs. Specifically, students construct stream hydrographs comparing precipitation to spring flow based on three time scales: hourly, daily, and annually.

Students work in pairs on computers to construct the first two hydrographs. The first hydrograph shows a rainstorm that occurred on October 23rd, 2004 and its impact on the flow at Barton Springs. The second hydrograph looks at daily rainfall and spring flow over the course of a year. Teachers should assign each student team the task of constructing a year-long hydrograph for one year between 1980 and 2002. Once all the teams have constructed their annual hydrographs, students assemble them to create a multi-year hydrograph and discuss how rainfall affects spring flow on a longer time scale.

Photo: Dr. Kathy Ellins of the TXESS Revolution discusses the Barton Springs Activity with teachers during TXESS Revolution PDA 3B in 2008. (Photo courtesy H.C. Olson)

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Development, Research and Testing of the Activity

The Barton Springs activity was developed by Joel Stevens, a National Science Foundation GK-12 Fellow, working in collaboration with Texas highs school science teachers, Murry Fly and Mark England, under NSF Grant No. 0139347 NSF. The activity was first tested with their students and subsequently implemented in the following teacher professional development workshops: (1) Revolution Teacher Workshops (2006), supported by the Texas Education Agency; and (2) PDA 3B (2009) of the TXESS Revolution Project, supported by the National Science Foundation Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences under NSF Grant No. 0703687. The activity is also part of Water Exploration, developed by Kathy Ellins and TXESS Revolution teachers with support from the Texas Water Development Board in 2010.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation, the Texas Education Agency or the Texas Water Development Board.

Activity rating by # TXESS Revolution Teachers in PDA # 2009


We thank Brian Smith and Brian Hunt of the Barton Spring Segment of the Edwards Aquifer Conservation District and Nico Hauwert of the City of Austin Watershed Protection/Development Review for providing the images used in this activity and their many insightful comments during the development of this activity.