Test wells part of UNCP geology outreach to county schools


John Allen’s earth science class at St. Pauls High School watched intently as a well-drilling rig bored deeper into the earth.



A driller on Tommy Ammons crew begins the dig

Several students were brave enough to get a hands-on feel for some mucky sand and clay as a test well was drilled in a remote corner of the school’s campus.

“There are a world of things you can do with the well and data from it,” Dr. Lee Phillips, a UNC Pembroke geologist, told Allen. “I will get you a kit so you can test the water.”

Dr. Phillips and two colleagues, geologist Dr. Martin Farley and science education professor Rachel McBroom, have been working with 14 high school earth science teachers at six Robeson County high schools in a National Science Foundation-sponsored program called “Life of the Aquifer.” The goal is to raise the level of earth science instruction.

With the completion of the 12-foot well in St. Pauls, they are half finished drilling six test wells at the schools, Dr. Phillips said.

“We are giving them a simple resource that allows teachers to demonstrate the relevance of earth science in a place that – to the untrained eye – appears devoid of geology,” he said. “As a geoscientist, the wells will give me a good idea what’s going on down there.”

The wells will be checked for water levels which can be compared to other climatology data and tracked across the county.

“With the recent drought, ground water levels take on new relevance,” Dr. Phillips said. “Ultimately, I would like to build a shared database network, so the teachers and students can see what’s going on at our other test sites.”
Thomas Ammons’ company Environmental Hydrogeological Consultants (EHC) of Red Springs, N.C., is drilling the wells. The St. Pauls well took a little more than an hour for his experienced crew.


Dr. Lee Phillips talks with John Allen’s (right) class at St. Pauls High School

“Let’s do Fairmont High School next week,” Ammons said. “We do many types of environmental work, underground tanks, emergency environmental response, soil and ground water sampling and drilling test wells like this one.”

Ammons contributed labor to the project in exchange for continuing education credits for state licensure.

“Having a company like EHC so close to the University has been a real resource for this project,” Dr. Phillips said.

UNCP was awarded a two-year, $98,023 NSF grant for the program which finishes up this spring. Earth science teachers spent two weeks in workshops and received computers loaded with tutorials for their students.

Test wells, water testing kits, rock samples and maps of underground water are supplied to the classrooms.

Dr. Martin Farley, chair of UNCP’s Geography and Geology Department, applied for the grant. He says geological awareness is low in the Coastal Plains with good reason.

“You can’t see rocks in the Coastal Plains, but they are here, and they are important to people’s lives,” he said. “Every time you turn on the faucet, you should think about geology.”

It’s the solid geology that makes the liquid benefits possible, he said. A large portion of local drinking water comes from deep wells.

“An aquifer is rock below the surface that has water in it,” Dr. Farley said. “Some of it is close to the surface, and some is in deep aquifers.”

For questions about the Life of the Aquifer program, please call 910.775.4024 or email geo@uncp.edu.