The ParFlow Sandtank: An interactive educational tool making invisible groundwater visible

Lisa K. Gallagher, Abram J. Farley, Calla Chennault, Sara Cerasoli, Sébastien Jourdain, Patrick O'Leary, Laura E. Condon, Reed M. Maxwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Physical aquifer models are a highly effective teaching tool for hydrology education, however they come with inherent limitations that include the high cost to purchase, the static configuration of the model materials, the time required to visualize hydrogeological phenomena, and the effort to reset and clean them over time. To address these and other limitations, we have developed an interactive computer simulation of a physical aquifer model called the ParFlow Sandtank. In this gamified interface, users run the simulation using a familiar web-app like interface with sliders and buttons while learning real hydrologic concepts. Our user interface allows participants to dive into the world of hydrology, understanding assumptions about model parameters such as hydraulic conductivity, making decisions about inputs to groundwater aquifer systems such as pumping rates, visualizing outputs such as stream flow, transport, and saturation, and exploring various factors that impact real environmental systems such as climate change. The ParFlow Sandtank has already been used in a variety of educational settings with more than 9,000 users per year, and we feel this emerging educational tool can be used broadly in educational environments and can be scaled-up to provide greater accessibility for students and educators. Here we present the capabilities and workflow of the ParFlow Sandtank, two use cases, and additional tools and custom templates that have been developed to support and enhance the reach of the ParFlow Sandtank.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number909918
JournalFrontiers in Water
StatePublished - Aug 22 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


  • ParFlow
  • groundwater
  • hydrology
  • online education
  • subsurface


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