An effective integrator of hydrologic history, isotope hydrology is a key to understanding fundamental physical, chemical, biological, and climate forcing processes occurring in a watershed. T he measurement of the concentrations of isotopes in groundwater and surface water can be incorporated into models to predict future responses of the watershed to trends in land-use change, water resource management decisions, and climate variability. Isotope methods are useful in regions where more traditional hydrologic tools such as geologic mapping of aquifer material, piezometric data, pump tests, hydraulic conductivity measurements, major ion chemistry, and hydrologic models give ambiguous results or insufficient information. Isotopes can be used to efficiently unravel water sources that have combined at the sampling location, and they can accurately determine residence time information, which has important implications for water resources management. If a major urban drinking water supply well from a Southwest basin pumps thousand-yearold water, for example, then it is mining the groundwater resource at a much faster rate than natural recharge. Likewise, a consultant might use isotope ages to prove that owner A, who bought property in , is responsible for a contaminant leak rather than owner B who bought the property in
Groundwater Age & Transport
Methods for using argon to age-date groundwater using ultra-low-background proportional counting
Argon can be used as a tracer for age-dating glaciers, oceans, and more recently, groundwater. With a half-life of years, 39Ar fills an intermediate age range gap , years not currently covered by other common groundwater tracers. Therefore, adding this tracer to the data suite for groundwater studies provides an important tool for improving our understanding of groundwater systems. We present the methods employed for arriving at an age-date for a given sample of argon degassed from groundwater.
When groundwater-based drinking water supply becomes contaminated, the timing and source of contamination are obvious questions. However, contaminants often have diffuse sources and different contaminants may have different sources even in a single groundwater well, making these questions complicated to answer. Age dating of groundwater has been used to reconstruct contaminant travel times to wells; however, critics have highlighted that groundwater flow is often complex with mixing of groundwater of different ages. In drinking water wells, where water is typically abstracted from a large depth interval, such mixing is even more problematic. We present a way to overcome some of the obstacles in identifying the source and age of contaminants in drinking water wells by combining depth-specific sampling with age tracer modeling, particle tracking simulations, geological characterization, and contaminant properties.
This document is also available in pdf format: fs Information about the age of ground water can be used to define recharge rates, refine hydrologic models of ground-water systems, predict contamination potential, and estimate the time needed to flush contaminants from ground-water systems. CFCs also can be used to trace seepage from rivers into ground-water systems, provide diagnostic tools for detection and early warning of leakage from landfills and septic tanks, and to assess susceptibility of water-supply wells to contamination from near-surface sources.