Tracers have a wide variety of uses in hydrologic studies: providing quantitative or qualitative estimates of recharge, identifying sources of recharge, providing information on velocities and travel times of water movement, assessing the importance of preferential flow paths, providing information on hydrodynamic dispersion, and providing data for calibration of water flow and solute-transport models (Walker, 1998; Cook and Herczeg, 2000; Scanlon et al., 2002b). Tracers generally are ions, isotopes, or gases that move with water and that can be detected in the atmosphere, in surface waters, and in the subsurface. Heat also is transported by water; therefore, temperatures can be used to trace water movement. This chapter focuses on the use of chemical and isotopic tracers in the subsurface to estimate recharge. Tracer use in surface-water studies to determine groundwater discharge to streams is addressed in Chapter 4; the use of temperature as a tracer is described in Chapter 8.
Following the nomenclature of Scanlon et al. (2002b), tracers are grouped into three categories: natural environmental tracers, historical tracers, and applied tracers. Natural environmental tracers are those that are transported to or created within the atmosphere under natural processes; these tracers are carried to the Earth’s surface as wet or dry atmospheric deposition. The most commonly used natural environmental tracer is chloride (Cl) (Allison and Hughes, 1978). Ocean water, through the process of evaporation, is the primary source of atmospheric Cl. Other tracers in this category include chlorine-36 (36Cl) and tritium (3H); these two isotopes are produced naturally in the Earth’s atmosphere; however, there are additional anthropogenic sources of them.
Additional publication details
|Publication type||Book chapter|
|Publication Subtype||Book Chapter|
|Title||Chemical Tracer Methods: Chapter 7|
|Publisher||Cambridge University Press|
|Publisher location||Cambridge, UK|
|Contributing office(s)||National Research Program - Central Branch|
|Larger Work Type||Book|
|Larger Work Title||Estimating Groundwater Recharge|