Water and sedimentary processes

Water plays a vital role in most sedimentary processes. Pure water itself has little effect on rocks. It is the dissolved gases within water - particularly carbon dioxide - which cause the chemical decay of minerals and mineral dissolution.

Most of the water on Earth occurs in the large ocean basins. However, water is also produced by volcanic activity on the surface of the Earth and some of it actually disappears into space each year. As well as carrying sediments in suspension, water also carries large quantities of sediments in solution (e.g. dissolved components) and this sometimes exceeds the total amount of sediments carried by other processes.

The water table

The groundwater or water table is the surface between two zones of rock or soil below which the pores are completely filled with water. This is also called the saturated or phreatic zone.

Above the water table is the unsaturated or vadose zone. This zone is also called the zone of aeration because the pore spaces are filled partly by air and water.

The water table in any area is rarely stable, even for a few months. In periods of low rainfall, the water table falls, while in periods of heavy rainfall, it rises, eventually leading to flooding when all the pore spaces are filled with water.

Aquifers are permeable beds or rock masses (e.g. vesicular basalt) whereas aquicludes are relatively impermeable beds or rock masses (e.g. quartzite). In some areas, the water in the aquifer is very old (e.g. in the Great Artesian Basin of Australia, much of the water is believed to be older than 50 000 years) and the aquifer recharge may not balance the removal of water from the aquifer. This will eventually lead to the aquifer becoming depleted of water.

Ondine Evans , Web Researcher/Editor
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Tags geoscience, sedimentary, water table,