artesian well, deep drilled well through which water is forced upward under pressure. The water in an artesian well flows from an aquifer, which is a layer of very porous rock or sediment, usually sandstone, capable of holding and transmitting large quantities of water. The geologic conditions necessary for an artesian well are an inclined aquifer sandwiched between impervious rock layers above and below that trap water in it. Water enters the exposed edge of the aquifer at a high elevation and percolates downward through interconnected pore spaces. The water held in these spaces is under pressure because of the weight of water in the portion of the aquifer above it. If a well is drilled from the land surface through the overlying impervious layer into the aquifer, this pressure will cause the water to rise in the well. In areas where the slope of the aquifer is great enough, pressure will drive the water above ground level in a spectacular, permanent fountain. Artesian springs can occur in similar fashion where faults or cracks in the overlying impervious layer allow water to flow upward. Water from an artesian well or spring is usually cold and free of organic contaminants, making it desirable for drinking. In North America, the Dakota sandstone provides aquifers for an artesian system that underlies parts of the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, and Saskatchewan and supplies great quantities of water to the dry Great Plains region. Many East Coast cities derive their water supplies from aquifers that are exposed along the edge of the Piedmont and dip downward toward the Atlantic coast. The largest artesian system in the world underlies nearly all of E and S Australia. Other important artesian systems serve London, Paris, and E Algeria.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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