Natural tracer profiles across argillaceous formations

Mazurek, Martin; Alt-Epping, Peter; Bath, Adrian; Gimmi, Thomas; Waber, Niklaus; Buschaert, Stéphane; De Cannière, Pierre; De Craen, Mieke; Gautschi, Andreas; Savoye, Sébastien; Vinsot, Agnès; Wemaere, Isabelle; Wouters, Laurent (2011). Natural tracer profiles across argillaceous formations. Applied geochemistry, 26(7), pp. 1035-1064. Oxford: Pergamon 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2011.03.124

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Argillaceous formations generally act as aquitards because of their low hydraulic conductivities. This property, together with the large retention capacity of clays for cationic contaminants, has brought argillaceous formations into focus as potential host rocks for the geological disposal of radioactive and other waste. In several countries, programmes are under way to characterise the detailed transport properties of such formations at depth. In this context, the interpretation of profiles of natural tracers in pore waters across the formations can give valuable information about the large-scale and long-term transport behaviour of these formations. Here, tracer-profile data, obtained by various methods of pore-water extraction for nine sites in central Europe, are compiled. Data at each site comprise some or all of the conservative tracers: anions (Cl(-), Br(-)), water isotopes (delta(18)O, delta(2)H) and noble gases (mainly He). Based on a careful evaluation of the palaeo-hydrogeological evolution at each site, model scenarios are derived for initial and boundary pore-water compositions and an attempt is made to numerically reproduce the observed tracer distributions in a consistent way for all tracers and sites, using transport parameters derived from laboratory or in situ tests. The comprehensive results from this project have been reported in Mazurek et al. (2009). Here the results for three sites are presented in detail, but the conclusions are based on model interpretations of the entire data set. In essentially all cases, the shapes of the profiles can be explained by diffusion acting as the dominant transport process over periods of several thousands to several millions of years and at the length scales of the profiles. Transport by advection has a negligible influence on the observed profiles at most sites, as can be shown by estimating the maximum advection velocities that still give acceptable fits of the model with the data. The advantages and disadvantages of different conservative tracers are also assessed. The anion Cl(-) is well suited as a natural tracer in aquitards, because its concentration varies considerably in environmental waters. It can easily be measured, although the uncertainty regarding the fraction of the pore space that is accessible to anions in clays remains an issue. The stable water isotopes are also well suited, but they are more difficult to measure and their values generally exhibit a smaller relative range of variation. Chlorine isotopes (delta(37)Cl) and He are more difficult to interpret because initial and boundary conditions cannot easily be constrained by independent evidence. It is also shown that the existence of perturbing events such as the activation of aquifers due to uplift and erosion, leading to relatively sharp changes of boundary conditions, can be considered as a pre-requisite to obtain well-interpretable tracer signatures. On the other hand, gradual changes of boundary conditions are more difficult to parameterise and so may preclude a clear interpretation.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Mazurek, Martin, Alt-Epping, Peter, Gimmi, Thomas, Waber, Niklaus


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology








Factscience Import

Date Deposited:

04 Oct 2013 14:28

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:08

Publisher DOI:


Web of Science ID:




URI: (FactScience: 216466)

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