Getting to the Core of the Matter

Scientists recovering first core samples from Ogallala well
The Kansas Geological Survey at KU is developing a graphic sedimentologic log of the subsurface structure in Haskell County. This diagram shows details from the 69 to 98 meter depth interval.

It’s no secret that western Kansas’ future depends largely on the Ogallala Aquifer, the vast but dwindling store of groundwater that supports agriculture across the High Plains.

Although scientists have monitored Ogallala water levels for years, there’s been a gap in their research. None of the Ogallala’s wells have been “cored,” a lengthy process that entails using a core bit to drill and remove a cylindrical sample from underground, which can provide invaluable data about subsurface structure.

But now scientists from the Kansas Geological Survey at the University of Kansas are coring a well in Haskell County. So far, they’ve retrieved nearly 300 feet of core, which is already improving their ability to understand and monitor the aquifer.

“Absent core samples, surprisingly little is known about how groundwater moves through the aquifer,” said KGS geologist Greg Ludvigson. “But these core samples we’re recovering will help us better understand the Ogallala’s layers and how they were deposited. This means we can build better groundwater models so we can better manage whatever water is left.” 

Kansas Geological Survey

The Kansas Geological Survey at KU conducts geological studies throughout Kansas with an emphasis on natural resources of economic value, water quality and quantity, and geologic hazards.

KGS is in the middle of a four-year study to clarify the future of the Ogallala Aquifer. The study is funded with a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The Ogallala encompasses 12.7 million acres and accounts for more than 30 percent of all groundwater withdrawals in the United States.

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