Stable and radioactive tracers were utilized in concert to characterize geochemical processes in a complex coastal groundwater system and to provide constraints on the kinetics of rock/water interactions. Groundwater samples from wells within the Dominguez Gap region of Los Angeles County, California were analyzed for a suite of major cations (Na+, K+, Mg2+, Ca2+) and anions (Cl−, SO42−), silica, alkalinity, select trace elements (Ba, B, Sr), dissolved oxygen, stable isotopes of hydrogen (δD), oxygen (δ18O), dissolved inorganic carbon (δ13CDIC), and radioactive isotopes (3H, 222Rn and 223,224,226,228Ra). In the study area, groundwater may consist of a complex mixture of native groundwater, intruded seawater, non-native injected water, and oil-field brine water. In some wells, Cl− concentrations attained seawater-like values and in conjunction with isotopically heavier δ18O values, these tracers provide information on the extent of seawater intrusion and/or mixing with oil-field brines. Groundwater 3H above 1 tritium unit (TU) was observed only in a few select wells close to the Dominguez Gap area and most other well groundwater was aged pre-1952. Based on an initial 14C value for the study site of 90 percent modern carbon (pmc), groundwater age estimates likely extend beyond 20 kyr before present and confirm deep circulation of some native groundwater through multiple aquifers. Enriched values of groundwater δ13CDIC in the absence of SO42− imply enhanced anaerobic microbial methanogenesis. While secular equilibrium was observed for 234U/238U (activity ratios ~1) in host matrices, strong isotopic fractionation in these groundwater samples can be used to obtain information of adsorption/desorption kinetics. Calculated Ra residence times are short, and the associated desorption rate constant is about three orders of magnitude slower than that of the adsorption rate constant. Combined stable- and radio-isotopic results provide unique insights into aquifer characteristics, such as geochemical cycling, rock/water interactions, and subsurface transport and mixing.
Additional publication details
A combined radio- and stable-isotopic study of a California coastal aquifer system