Dating groundwater in the Bohemian Cretaceous Basin: Understanding tracer variations in the subsurface

Corcho Alvarado, J. A.; Paces, T.; Purtschert, Roland (2013). Dating groundwater in the Bohemian Cretaceous Basin: Understanding tracer variations in the subsurface. Applied geochemistry, 29, pp. 189-198. Pergamon 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2012.11.014

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The northern section of the Bohemian Cretaceous Basin has been the site of intensive U exploitation with harmful impacts on groundwater quality. The understanding of groundwater flow and age distribution is crucial for the prediction of the future dispersion and impact of the contamination. State of the art tracer methods (3H, 3He, 4He, 85Kr, 39Ar and 14C) were, therefore, used to obtain insights to ageing and mixing processes of groundwater along a north–south flow line in the centre of the two most important aquifers of Cenomanian and middle Turonian age. Dating of groundwater is particularly complex in this area as: (i) groundwater in the Cenomanian aquifer is locally affected by fluxes of geogenic and biogenic gases (e.g. CO2, CH4, He) and by fossil brines in basement rocks rich in Cl and SO4; (ii) a thick unsaturated zone overlays the Turonian aquifer; (iii) a periglacial climate and permafrost conditions prevailed during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), and iv) the wells are mostly screened over large depth intervals.

Large disagreements in 85Kr and 3H/3He ages indicate that processes other than ageing have affected the tracer data in the Turonian aquifer. Mixing with older waters (>50 a) was confirmed by 39Ar activities. An inverse modelling approach, which included time lags for tracer transport throughout the unsaturated zone and degassing of 3He, was used to estimate the age of groundwater. Best fits between model and field results were obtained for mean residence times varying from modern up to a few hundred years. The presence of modern water in this aquifer is correlated with the occurrence of elevated pollution (e.g. nitrates).

An increase of reactive geochemical indicators (e.g. Na) and radiogenic 4He, and a decrease in 14C along the flow direction confirmed groundwater ageing in the deeper confined Cenomanian aquifer. Radiocarbon ages varied from a few hundred years to more than 20 ka. Initial 14C activity for radiocarbon dating was calibrated by means of 39Ar measurements. The 14C age of a sample recharged during the LGM was further confirmed by depleted stable isotope signatures and near freezing point noble gas temperature. Radiogenic 4He accumulated in groundwater with concentrations increasing linearly with 14C ages. This enabled the use of 4He to validate the dating range of 14C and extend it to other parts of this aquifer. In the proximity of faults, 39Ar in excess of modern concentrations and 14C dead CO2 sources, elevated 3He/4He ratios and volcanic activity in Oligocene to Quaternary demonstrate the influence of gas of deeper origin and impeded the application of 4He, 39Ar and 14C for groundwater dating.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


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

UniBE Contributor:

Purtschert, Roland


500 Science > 530 Physics








Doris Rätz

Date Deposited:

25 Sep 2014 12:22

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:31

Publisher DOI:





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