Infiltration and Runoff Investigation

Kelli Buck

Brooklyn Theater Arts High School

Summer Research Program for Science Teachers

August 2012


Subject:  Earth Science

Grade Level: 10th

Unit: Landscapes, Weathering and Erosion


  1. SWBAT define and describe infiltration and runoff.
  2. SWBAT identify conditions that change the amount of runoff or infiltraton

Vocabulary: infiltration, runoff, slope, permeable, saturation

Materials: per pair:  student worksheet, aluminum pan, sponges (2), paper towel, cardboard backing, plastic wrap, water bottle

Background:  Landscapes are shaped and formed by the movement of water on at and below the surface.  Depending on the conditions of the


  1. Engage –Give students the Infiltration and Runoff Exploration Guide.  Play a sound clip of a rain storm and have the students close their eyes.  First ask them to picture themselves on the sidewalk or at the bus stop.  Ask them what is happening to the water.  Play the clip again, have students picture themselves in the park.  What happens to the water here?  Look at a picture of a flooded subway platform. Ask student to explain why this happened.
  2. Explore – Provide students with all materials.  Make sure remind students that they need to be careful with their water, making sure to keep it inside the pan.  Students should perform 3 different explorations, one about slope, one about saturation and one about permeability.  Students should make observations about what they are seeing.
  3. Explain:  Ask students what they saw in their pan.  Provide students with the definition of infiltration and runoff.  Ask students where they saw infiltration in their pan and where they saw runoff
  4. Explain:  Provide students with the definition of slope, saturated, and permeable.  Ask students to describe the conditions in their tray.  For example ask students, “what created a saturated condition?  Is water more likely to infiltrate or runoff when the ground is saturated?”, “what created an impermeable condition? Is water more likely to infiltrate or runoff under permeable conditions?”


1.      Think back to a rainstorm within the city.    Does more runoff or infiltration occur?  Explain why.

2.      Think back to a rainstorm within the park.    Does more runoff or infiltration occur?  Explain why.

3.      After heavy rains, why does flooding occur in some rural (country) areas?

4.      Do you think adding plants to an area would increase or decrease runoff?  Why or why not?

5.      Think back to the subway picture.  How could city planners prevent this from happening?


Students are tasked with creating a landscape that has prevents a town (model placed inside the tray) from flooding.  A variety of materials should be provided, and students should be able to justify their choices in materials.  Students should test their model to see if they successfully designed a landscape that prevents flooding.


1.2g Earth has continuously been recycling water since the outgassing of water early in its history. This constant recirculation of water at and near Earth's surface is described by the hydrologic (water) cycle (most of standard addressed in Meteorology unit).