Relation of electrochemical potentials and iron content to ground-water flow patterns

Professional Paper 498-C




This study was undertaken to develop means of measuring oxidation potentials in aquifer systems and to use the measured values in interpreting the behavior of iron in ground water. Anne Arundel County, Md., was selected as the area of study because of the wide range of concentration of iron-nearly zero to about 35 ppm-in the ground water and the rather complete information on the geology and hydrology. The regional geology consists of coastal plain sediments ranging in age from Early Cretaceous through the Recent. Most of the pH and oxidation-potential measurements were made in nonmarine Cretaceous deposits, only a few in the marine Eocene. Iron-bearing minerals in the area are primarily hematite or limonite and glauconite with a small amount of pyrite.

Equipment was developed that permits the measurement of oxidation potentials by use of saturated calomel and platinum electrodes in ground-water samples uncontaminated by oxygen of the atmosphere. Measured Eh values range from about +700 mv to -40 mv. Approximately 2 to 3 hours are required to measure a stable or nearly stable oxidation potential.

The mineralogy and organic content of the deposits and the ground-water flow pattern are the primary controls on the oxidation potential and pH of the water. A correlation exists between the oxidation potential and the concentration of iron in ground water; the higher concentrations occur in waters with the lowest values of Eh. The concentration of iron in the water tested shows little correlation with the pH of the water. The highest oxidation potentials were measured in water produced from shallow wells and those wells in recharge areas. The lowest potentials were measured farthest downgradient in water associated with gray and green sediments. The Eh values measured in the field are between values predicted from the solubility of Fe(OH)2(c) and values predicted from the solubility of hematite.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Relation of electrochemical potentials and iron content to ground-water flow patterns
Series title:
Professional Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Government Printing Office
Report: iii, p. C1-C16; 3 Plates: 10.09 x 17.13 inches or less
Larger Work Title:
Hydrology of aquifer systems
United States
Anne Arundel County