Environmental tracer evidence for connection between shallow and bedrock aquifers and high intrinsic susceptibility to contamination of the conterminous U.S. glacial aquifer

Journal of Hydrology
By: , and 

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Abstract

Covering a large portion of the northern conterminous United States (1.87 x 106 km2), the glacial aquifer serves as the primary water supply for 39 million public and domestic water users. Mean groundwater age, groundwater age distribution, and susceptibility to land surface contamination, using a new metric (Susceptibility Index; SI) based on the full age distribution and less prone to bias than estimated mean age, is reported for 168 public and domestic wells across the aquifer. Comparison of groundwater age metrics between well networks of varying spatial scale suggest an extensive sample network of equally spaced, long screened interval wells can be used to characterize aquifer wide groundwater age. Estimated mean age ranges from 1 to 50,000 years and, according to the composite age distribution, approximately 63 percent of all sampled water recharged after 1950 (i.e., modern) and 18 percent of the sampled water was recharged greater than 10,000 years ago. The later finding strongly suggests a connection between the glacial aquifer and underlying bedrock aquifers. Statistical analysis of glacial aquifer hydrogeology and age metrics show groundwater ages are young (less than few 100 years) and more susceptible to land surface contamination (larger SI) in unconfined and shallow portions of the aquifer. Old groundwater (greater than 1000 years) is more often associated with thicker sequences of fine grain sediments and/or shallow bedrock. Calculated SI is shown to be more strongly related to the number of land surface contaminants detected than mean age or fraction modern. Statistical analysis of SI and hydrogeology indicates SI is largely dictated by well depth and confinement. This study demonstrates how sample network design can be used to characterize groundwater age of large aquifers with a limited number of samples and how interpretation of environmental tracers can be used to improve conceptual models of groundwater aquifers and identify groundwater susceptible to contamination.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Environmental tracer evidence for connection between shallow and bedrock aquifers and high intrinsic susceptibility to contamination of the conterminous U.S. glacial aquifer
Series title Journal of Hydrology
DOI 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2019.124505
Volume 583
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Utah Water Science Center
Description 124505, 12 p.
Country United States
Other Geospatial Glacial aquifer
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