Noble gas, CFC and other geochemical evidence for the age and origin of the Bath thermal waters, UK

Edmunds, W. Mike; Darling, W. George; Purtschert, Roland; Corcho Alvarado, José Antonio (2014). Noble gas, CFC and other geochemical evidence for the age and origin of the Bath thermal waters, UK. Applied geochemistry, 40, pp. 155-163. Pergamon 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2013.10.007

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The city of Bath is a World Heritage site and its thermal waters, the Roman Baths and new spa development rely on undisturbed flow of the springs (45 °C). The current investigations provide an improved understanding of the residence times and flow regime as basis for the source protection. Trace gas indicators including the noble gases (helium, neon, argon, krypton and xenon) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), together with a more comprehensive examination of chemical and stable isotope tracers are used to characterise the sources of the thermal water and any modern components. It is shown conclusively by the use of 39Ar that the bulk of the thermal water has been in circulation within the Carboniferous Limestone for at least 1000 years. Other stable isotope and noble gas measurements confirm previous findings and strongly suggest recharge within the Holocene time period (i.e. the last 12 kyr). Measurements of dissolved 85Kr and chlorofluorocarbons constrain previous indications from tritium that a small proportion (<5%) of the thermal water originates from modern leakage into the spring pipe passing through Mesozoic valley fill underlying Bath. This introduces small amounts of O2 into the system, resulting in the Fe precipitation seen in the King’s Spring. Silica geothermometry indicates that the water is likely to have reached a maximum temperature of between 69–99 °C, indicating a most probable maximum circulation depth of ∼3 km, which is in line with recent geological models. The rise to the surface of the water is sufficiently indirect that a temperature loss of >20 °C is incurred. There is overwhelming evidence that the water has evolved within the Carboniferous Limestone formation, although the chemistry alone cannot pinpoint the geometry of the recharge area or circulation route. For a likely residence time of 1–12 kyr, volumetric calculations imply a large storage volume and circulation pathway if typical porosities of the limestone at depth are used, indicating that much of the Bath-Bristol basin must be involved in the water storage.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > Climate and Environmental Physics

UniBE Contributor:

Purtschert, Roland, Corcho Alvarado, José Antonio


500 Science > 530 Physics








Doris Rätz

Date Deposited:

29 Sep 2014 15:36

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:31

Publisher DOI:


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