Helium isotope studies in the Mojave Desert, California: Implications for groundwater chronology and regional seismicity

Chemical Geology
By: , and 



We report helium isotope and concentration results for groundwaters from the western Mojave River Basin (MRB), 130 km east of Los Angeles, CA. The basin lies adjacent to the NW-SE trending San Andreas Fault (SAF) system. Samples were collected along two groundwater flowpaths that originate in the San Gabriel Mountains and discharge to the Mojave River located ???32 km to the northeast. Additional groundwater samples were collected from Mojave River Deposits underlying the Mojave River. The primary objective of this study is to identify and quantify crustal and mantle helium contributions to the regional groundwater system. A total of 27 groundwaters, sampled previously for chemistry and isotope systematics (including 14C activity) have measured helium concentrations that increase along flowpaths from 9.9??10-8 to 1.0??10-4 cm3 STP g-1 H2O. Concomitantly, 3He/4He ratios decrease from 0.84RA to 0.11RA (RA equals the 3He/4He ratio in air=1.4??10-6). We did not record 3He/4He ratios equivalent to crustal-production values (???0.02RA) in any sample. Dissolved helium concentrations were resolved into components associated with solubility equilibration, air entrainment, mantle-derivation, in-situ production within the aquifer, and extraneous crustal fluxes. All samples contained the first four components, but only older samples had the superimposed effects of helium derived from a crustal flux. The radiogenic He component has chronological significance, and good concordance between 4He and 14C ages for younger groundwaters (<25,000 year) demonstrates the integrity of the 4 He-chronometer in this setting. Helium-rich waters could also be dated with the 4He technique, but only by first isolating the whole crustal flux (3-10??10-6 cm3 STP cm-2 year-1). Mantle-derived 3He (3Hem) is present in all MRB samples irrespective of distance from the SAF. However, regional-aquifer groundwaters near the terminus of the flowpath have a significantly greater content of mantle-derived 3He in comparison with more modern samples. We propose that faults in the basin other than the SAF may be an additional source of mantle-derived helium. The large range in 3He m concentrations may be related to fault activity; however, groundwaters with lower and more constant 3Hem contents may indicate that seismic activity along the SAF has been relatively constant for the past 30,000 years, demonstrating that ancient groundwaters may serve as an archive for paleo-seismic events. ?? 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. All rights reserved.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Helium isotope studies in the Mojave Desert, California: Implications for groundwater chronology and regional seismicity
Series title Chemical Geology
DOI 10.1016/j.chemgeo.2003.07.002
Volume 202
Issue 1-2
Year Published 2003
Language English
Contributing office(s) California Water Science Center
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Chemical Geology
First page 95
Last page 113