Mineral Guide > How the Earth was Formed > Underground Streams and Lakes

Underground Streams and Lakes

If the earth were transparent as the atmosphere we should see many things of wonderful interest and beauty beneath its surface. If we could see the mineral gems that lie beneath the earth's surface they would rival in beauty the Jewelled firmament above us. We should also see rivers and rivulets of crystal clearness and lakes of broad expanse. I can almost hear my young readers saying, " I wish we could look beneath the surface of the earth and see the wonderful and beautiful things it contains, just as we look up to the stars, or out of the window upon a landscape." But let me remind them that nature has been very generous in furnishing rare and wonderful things for them to study and admire to which they can have easy access almost every day. The longest life is too short to study and admire more than a few of the things we may see upon the surface of the earth. Nature has opened a few doors so that we may walk in, study and admire the work she is carrying on in the darkness where the light of the sun never penetrates. Nature makes a free use of sunlight to perfect her most beautiful work upon the surface of the earth, but her most delicate and beautiful work beneath the surface of the earth is wrought by other agencies. Caves have been entered and explored by natural openings, and springs and rivers gush out at the surface of the earth, telling us plainly that they are fed by subterranean fountains and lakes.

Following the order of our topic, let us see what we can find out about underground streams and lakes, and why we know they exist when we seldom see them. We know that large rivers after flowing miles upon the surface of the earth suddenly drop into subterranean channels and reappear after running miles underground. Springs which are always flowing must be constantly fed from same source beneath the surface of the earth. In boring wells the augers, after going down to various depths, suddenly drop several feet, showing that they have reached a cavity in the earth or a fountain of water ; if the water gushes up it is evident a fountain has been struck.

Where does the water come from to fill the underground lakes and reservoirs and keep the rivers constantly flowing? Geologists tell us that all the land surface of the earth was for vast ages under water; that the great oceans that now roll between the continents once covered them entirely, but after long ages mighty internal forces of the earth raised them above the ocean's level. For a long time after the hills and mountains were raised above the surface of the ocean, where the valleys and prairies now are there were lakes and inland seas. The water in these lakes and seas did not all evaporate or find its way to the ocean by the rivers that flowed from them. Deep down into the earth much of it found its way, along the fissures and porous strata, until it reached some impervious stream, as clay or granite. But as this first underground supply would in time become exhausted, by flowing into the ocean through the rivers they fed, nature has made further provision for keeping up the supply. Everywhere upon the surface of the earth where there is water or moisture evaporation is going on. The sun raises enormous quantities of water in the form of vapor, which forms clouds and descends in rain. A part of this water is soon restored to the sea by the rivers, but by far the largest portion penetrates the earth's surface, as water would penetrate cloth or a sponge when poured upon it. Rain penetrating the earth goes down until it comes to some substance that it cannot penetrate. Then, in trying to find its level, it will distribute itself just as it does upon the surface of the earth. It will find its way into cavities, large and small, or following some underground channel or stratum, it may burst forth a clear and sparkling spring, or it may flow on a rivulet, or river, and perhaps enter a great subterranean lake. The under-ground fountain or lake that keeps an artesian well spouting from year to year may be fed by a stream or lake in the heart of some distant mountain. Some artesian wells cease to flow after a while, showing that the fountain that supplies them is at least partially exhausted. We do not know to what depth water penetrates the earth. Artesian wells have been bored in recent years to the depth of four thousand feet. The temperature of springs and artesian wells is regulated by the temperature of the strata through which the water percolates. The geysers of Iceland send up enormous jets of hot water in the midst of Arctic cold.

The earth is nature's great filter, cleansing and purifying the water from the impurities of the soil. As it passes through strata of gravel or clay, it becomes pure and wholesome to drink. Sometimes water passes through a stratum containing sulphur, iron or magnesia, and so we have mineral wells and springs. There is in Brown County, Illinois, an iron, a sulphur, and a magnesia spring within a few feet of each other.

Having considered underground streams and lakes, artesian wells, and geysers in a general way, we will now proceed to notice some of the most remarkable of each. Of underground lakes we know but little. We cannot enter them as we do a cave, and if we could now and then find an entrance to them, we should find little room between their surface and the strata above it for navigation. We infer their existence, because they are necessary to supply many underground rivers and smaller streams that come to the surface and discharge their waters into the ocean. Another proof of their existence is found in the large areas of country where deep water is struck at a uniform depth measuring from the ocean level. The bogs of Ireland are floating upon underground lakes.

Springs are gems of the first water, as the dealer in precious stones would say of a perfect diamond. They do not impress us with their size so much as the way they minister to our comfort. But few wells equal them in the variety and purity of their waters. I remember a spring back in New England, which burst forth from a bed of gravel at the side of a hill with such force that it seemed to fairly boil, though icy cold and clear as crystal. So violent was the ebullition that the gravel and pebbles were continually thrown to the surface. Then it ran leaping, gurgling and sparkling down a steep declivity, and was joined on the way by rivulets from three smaller springs, so that when it reached the level of the valley it became a quiet, well-behaved brook, the home of the speckled trout. In places where it spread out over a gravelly bed, the birds would light upon the stones and sip the water, and fly away singing joyous notes for so exquisite a luxury. A half mile from its source this brook became quite broad and deep. It ran through a pasture, and cattle came and slaked their thirst.

Hot springs are numerous in all parts of the world. The water of most hot springs has decided mineral properties, for the reason that hot water passing through mineral strata will dissolve more of the mineral substance than cold water. Many hot springs are great resorts for invalids because of their curative properties. The famous Silver Springs in Florida has the dimensions of a small lake, and boats sail over it, and a small river continually flows from it. The inhabitants of Chaudes Aigues, France, use the water of the hot springs to cook their food, to wash their clothes, and warm their houses. The heat from these springs is worth about $30 per day, as it is equal to the heat produced by five tons of coal.

Few things in nature are more beautiful and impressive than a river bursting from the hillside, its clear waters sparkling in the sunlight, seeming joyous at being free from its captivity. Among the most celebrated and beautiful of subterranean rivers is the Sorgues of Daucluse, in France. It flows for miles through a cave, and discharges thirty cubic yards per second. Soon after it issues from the cave it divides into numerous irrigating channels, and spreads fertility over an area of more than eighty square miles. Echo River in Mammoth Cave is navigated by boats for nearly a mile, and in some places is two hundred feet wide. The Poik River in Austria flows through the famous cave of Planina. The cave can only be explored by a boat. Professor Schmidt, with three companions, navigated the river for more than a mile. Along the continental shores many outlets of subterranean rivers may be seen. In 1857 all that part of the sea adjacent to the southern point of Florida received an immense eruption of fresh water. Intelligent observers estimated that for more than a month this remarkable inundation of a subterranean river discharged as much water as the Mississippi, and spread all over the strait, thirty-one miles wide, that separates Key West from the mainland of Florida.

Among the wonders of Yellowstone Park the geysers are the most noted. One of them is called Old Faithful, because he always spouts on time. He gives a grand exhibition every hour, whether he has an audience or not. He spouts, and sputters, and hisses and throws a huge column of hot water into the air, and then quiets down and gets ready for another performance. Another geyser in Yellowstone Park is called the Beehive, being cone-shaped like the old fashioned beehive. It throws up a column of water more than two hundred feet. Castle Geyser is another that throws up a larger column of hot water than either of the above. The falling water has built up a huge crater that resembles a castle, hence its name. But the largest geyser in Yellowstone Park is called the Giantess. The well or orifice through which it sends up its column of water is more than twenty feet in diameter. The steam rises after the water has been ejected. A body of water more than twenty feet in diameter ascends in one gigantic column to the height of ninety feet. Then from the apex of this column five jets shoot up, radiating slightly from each other to the height of two hundred and fifty feet from the ground. The earth trembles under the descending deluge of this vast column of water, a thousand hissing sounds are heard in the air, rainbows encircle the summits of the jets with a halo of celestial glory. The falling water plows up and bears away the shelly strata, and a seething flood pours down the slope into the river. It is the grandest and most terrible fountain in the world. Visitors have to wait hours and sometimes days before this geyser will entertain them with an exhibition of its power and beauty.

Commander Ford, of the British Navy, says that one of the geysers of Iceland, called the Stroker, can be excited to action by throwing stones and turf down into the pit, and that the geyser resents the insult by throwing them up. He found that it usually took about forty minutes after throwing in the stones before they were thrown up. It occurred to him that he might send his dinner down and have it sent back to him well cooked. So he wrapped a leg of mutton and a fowl in a cloth and threw them into the boiling caldron, where he would never see them again unless they were thrown up. After waiting the usual forty minutes he began to regret his venture, but the geyser was only seven minutes behind time, and up came his leg of mutton and fowl done to a turn. Aside from the beauty of the columns of water, vapor and steam geysers send up, the waters are all the time depositing carbonate of lime and silica, and building up craters of many interesting forms.

The principle on which artesian wells act is very simple and can be understood by any schoolboy. Though this principle is very simple yet there are so many varying conditions that many expensive failures result. Millions of dollars have been spent to get pure wells of flowing water, with nothing to show but holes in the ground or a flow of useless mineral water, but sometimes a good quality of mineral water is obtained. At Henry, Illinois, a flowing well of sulphur water is highly valued by the people, who come many miles to obtain it, while a few miles north of Henry, at Bureau Junction, there is a well of soda water which is very palatable.

Some of the best authorities say that only flowing wells should be called artesian. I will refer to a few of the many flowing wells. The hot springs in many parts of the world are natural artesian wells, the water being forced up from great depths. It is estimated that there are more than fifty thousand wells east of the Mississippi River from one to two thousand feet in depth, drilled to obtain petroleum oil or the inflammable gas which accompanies it. These are as strictly artesian wells as those that send up water.
Among the most noted artesian wells is the one at Grenelle, in Paris. In boring this well, after going down one thousand seven hundred and ninety-seven feet and passing through a stratum of rock over a subterranean fountain, the drill suddenly fell fourteen feet and the water soon rose above the surface. The temperature of the water coming from this well is eighty-two degrees, Fahrenheit. It is conducted by pipes to the hospital in the town, for heating purposes. The bore in most artesian wells is from three to six inches in diameter, but the one at Passy, near Paris, is twenty-eight inches in diameter and one thousand nine hundred and twenty-five feet deep.

In town and country a pure water supply is of the utmost importance to the health of the people and in many countries it can only be obtained by deep and expensive boring. Various uses are made of water flowing from artesian wells. In many places it is used to propel machinery. In the desert of Sahara artesian wells have become of great value in making the country near them habitable, as the flow is sufficient to irrigate large areas of land. Two new villages have been built in the desert and two hundred thousand palm trees have been planted about these wells. In the Western part of the United States, where the rain fall is limited, many artesian Wells have been bored, the water being largely used for irrigation. In California more than forty thousand acres are irrigated from flowing wells. The average depth of these wells is about two hundred and fifty feet and the average discharge eighty thousand gallons per day.