aqui·​fer ˈa-kwə-fər How to pronounce aquifer (audio)
: a water-bearing stratum of permeable rock, sand, or gravel
aquiferous adjective

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Aquifer and Agriculture

The vast but relatively shallow Ogallala Aquifer lies beneath the Great Plains, under portions of eight states. Its thickness ranges from a few feet to more than a thousand feet. The Ogallala yields about 30 percent of the nation's groundwater used for irrigation in agriculture, and provides drinking water for most of the people within the area. But for many years more water has been extracted from the Ogallala than has been returned, and the situation today is of great concern.

Examples of aquifer in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The aquifers that supply 90 percent of the nation’s drinking water are being severely depleted. David Gelles, New York Times, 5 Sep. 2023 During a town hall meeting, other residents worried TLA wants to leave the door open to oil and gas mining on Bluff Bench, which poses a risk to an aquifer directly below serving both the town and hundreds of families living on the nearby Navajo Nation Reservation. Leia Larsen, The Salt Lake Tribune, 5 Sep. 2023 The North American continent is blessed with plentiful aquifers filled with groundwater that’s allowed the U.S. to create verdant farmland and grow into a food superpower. Darren Orf, Popular Mechanics, 1 Sep. 2023 Over millions of years, rainwater percolates through lithium-containing rocks, dissolves the metal, and carries it to underground aquifers. Rahul Rao, Popular Science, 30 Aug. 2023 Right now, most customers are receiving a blend of 40 percent Bull Run water and 60 percent groundwater from the Columbia South Shore Well Field, which is supplied by deep aquifers that store rain that falls in the Portland basin. Gwozniac, oregonlive, 30 Aug. 2023 Overtaxing the aquifer amid a drought, Baker said, has directly contributed to the spring drying up. Rachel Monroe, The New Yorker, 30 Aug. 2023 The aquifer is managed by the Edwards Aquifer Authority. Hojun Choi, Dallas News, 22 Aug. 2023 By 1994, an underground plume had spread to a nearby aquifer. Elizabeth Kryder-Reid, The Conversation, 14 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'aquifer.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from French aquifère "water-bearing," from aqui- (from Latin aqua "water" + -i- -i-) + -fère "bearing" — more at aqua, -fer

Note: The term was introduced into English by the geologist William Harmon Norton (1856-1944) in "Artesian Wells of Iowa," Iowa Geological Survey, vol. 6, Report on Lead, Zinc, Artesian Wells, etc. (Des Moines, 1897), p. 130: "The sand represents the permeable water-bearing layer, the aquifer, to revive a term of Arago's, and its outcrop between the basin rims the area of supply." "Arago" is the French physicist François Arago (1786-1853), whose essay "Sur les puits forés, connus sous le nom de puits artésiens, des fontaines artésiennes, ou de fontaines jaillissants" (Bureau des Longitudes, Annuaire pour l'an 1835 [Paris, 1834], pp. 181-258), is cited earlier in Norton's paper. As noted by Alfred Clebsch ("Analysis and Critique of 'Aquifers, Ground-Water Bodies, and Hydrophers' by C.V. Theis," Selected Contributions to Ground-Water Hydrology by C.V. Theis, and a Review of His Life and Work [U.S. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 2415] [Denver, 1994], pp. 39-43), Norton is not strictly speaking "reviving" anything used by Arago, who only uses aquifère as an adjective in the collocations nappe aquifère and couche aquifère (both meaning approximately "water-bearing layer"). Note that in an English translation of Arago's article ("On Springs, Artesian Wells, and Spouting Fountains," Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, vol. 18, no. 36 [April, 1835]) there is no direct equivalent of aquifère, as couches aquifères is rendered by "water bearing beds" and nappe aquifère as simply "water."

First Known Use

1897, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of aquifer was in 1897

Dictionary Entries Near aquifer

Cite this Entry

“Aquifer.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


aqui·​fer ˈak-wə-fər How to pronounce aquifer (audio)
: a water-bearing layer of rock, sand, or gravel capable of absorbing water
aquiferous adjective

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