Advancing Physically-Based Flow Simulations of Alluvial Systems Through Atmospheric Noble Gases and the Novel 37 Ar Tracer Method

Schilling, Oliver S.; Gerber, Christoph; Partington, Daniel J.; Purtschert, Roland; Brennwald, Matthias S.; Kipfer, Rolf; Hunkeler, Daniel; Brunner, Philip (2017). Advancing Physically-Based Flow Simulations of Alluvial Systems Through Atmospheric Noble Gases and the Novel 37 Ar Tracer Method. Water resources research, 53(12), pp. 10465-10490. American Geophysical Union 10.1002/2017WR020754

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To provide a sound understanding of the sources, pathways, and residence times of groundwater water in alluvial river-aquifer systems, a combined multitracer and modeling experiment was carried out in an important alluvial drinking water wellfield in Switzerland. ²²²Rn, ³H/³He, atmospheric noble gases, and the novel ³⁷Ar-method were used to quantify residence times and mixing ratios of water from different sources. With a half-life of 35.1 days, ³⁷Ar allowed to successfully close a critical observational time gap between ²²²Rn and ³H/³He for residence times of weeks to months. Covering the entire range of residence times of groundwater in alluvial systems revealed that, to quantify the fractions of water from different sources in such systems, atmospheric noble gases and helium isotopes are tracers suited for end-member mixing analysis. A comparison between the tracer-based mixing ratios and mixing ratios simulated with a fully-integrated, physically-based flow model showed that models, which are only calibrated against hydraulic heads, cannot reliably reproduce mixing ratios or residence times of alluvial river-aquifer systems. However, the tracer-based mixing ratios allowed the identification of an appropriate flow model parametrization. Consequently, for alluvial systems, we recommend the combination of multitracer studies that cover all relevant residence times with fully-coupled, physically-based flow modeling to better characterize the complex interactions of river-aquifer systems.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > Climate and Environmental Physics
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute

UniBE Contributor:

Gerber, Christoph and Purtschert, Roland


500 Science > 530 Physics




American Geophysical Union




Doris Rätz

Date Deposited:

18 Apr 2018 14:16

Last Modified:

01 Jul 2018 02:33

Publisher DOI:





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