Dissolved noble gases in groundwater

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Date

2008-05

Authors

Cey, Bradley Donald, 1974-

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Abstract

Atmospheric noble gases (He, Ne, Ar, Kr, and Xe) dissolved in groundwater are a valuable tool in hydrology. Numerous studies have relied on groundwater recharge temperatures calculated from dissolved noble gas data (noble gas temperatures, NGT) to infer paleoclimate conditions. This research investigated gas dissolution during groundwater recharge and critically examined the use of dissolved noble gas data in groundwater research. A detailed investigation of an agriculturally impacted shallow aquifer allowed comparison of measured water table temperatures (WTT) with calculated NGT. Results suggest that NGT calculated from widely used noble gas interpretive models do reflect measured WTT, supporting the use of dissolved noble gases to deduce recharge temperatures. Samples having dissolved gas concentrations below the equilibrium concentration with respect to atmospheric pressure were attributed to denitrification induced gas stripping in the saturated zone. Modeling indicated that minor degassing (<10% [Delta]Ne) may cause underestimation of groundwater recharge temperature by up to 2 °C. In another study a large dissolved noble gas data set (905 samples) from California was analyzed. Noble gas modeling using the same interpretive models indicates that multiple models may fit measured data within measurement uncertainty, suggesting that goodness-of-fit is not a robust indicator of model appropriateness. A unique aspect of this study was the high Ne and excess air concentrations associated with surficial artificial recharge facilities. A final study examined whether climatic/hydrologic changes occurring over glacial-interglacial time periods could impact the accuracy of NGT used in paleoclimate studies. Numerical modeling experiments estimated WTT sensitivity to changes in: 1) precipitation amount, 2) water table depth, and 3) air temperature. Precipitation and water table depth had a minor impact on WTT (~0.2 °C). In contrast, the impact of air temperature changes on WTT was more pronounced. Results suggest that air temperatures inferred from NGT data may underestimate actual air temperature change since the last glacial maximum by ~1 °C at sites having seasonal snowcover. These results suggest despite uncertainty in the exact physical processes controlling gas dissolution during groundwater recharge, NGT do reflect WTT. However, inferring paleo-air temperatures from NGT are subject to error, especially locations with seasonal snowcover.

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