Ground-water samples were collected from 56 locations throughout the Espanola Basin and analyzed for general chemistry (major ions and trace elements), carbon isotopes (delta 13C and 14C activity) in dissolved inorganic carbon, noble gases (He, Ne, Ar, Kr, Xe, and 3He/4He ratio), and tritium. Temperature profiles were measured at six locations in the southeastern part of the basin. Temperature profiles suggest that ground water generally becomes warmer with distance from the mountains and that most ground-water flow occurs at depths <250 m below ground surface. The two dominant water types in the basin are Ca/CO3+HCO3 and Na/CO3+HCO3, followed by mixed-cation/CO3+HCO3. Waters generally evolve from Ca/CO3+HCO3 to Na/CO3+HCO3 with increasing residence time through Ca-Na cation exchange with clay minerals. Basin ground water can be divided into four hydrochemical zones based on chemical and isotopic composition: West, Southeast, Northeast, and Central Deep. Hydrochemical zone boundaries are roughly correlated with contacts between geologic units or lithosome transitions within the Tesuque Formation.
Geochemical mass-transfer modeling was performed using NETPATH and 14C ages were adjusted accordingly. Isotopic input parameters were varied within reasonable limits to assess uncertainty in the adjusted 14C ages. For each sample, a preferred adjusted age was selected from multiple possible adjusted ages based primarily on the fit between measured and modeled delta 13C values. The range of possible age adjustments for most samples is about 6,000 years or less, indicating that the preferred adjusted age for most samples has a total range of uncertainty of <6,000 years. Preferred adjusted ages range from 0 to 35,400 years. First-order trends in the age distribution include older ages generally occurring farther from rivers on the east side of the basin and farther from the mountains, consistent with both mountain-front recharge and recharge on the basin floor in the form of stream-loss and arroyo recharge. Ages also increase with depth in the Southeast zone, the only area where discrete-depth samples could be collected.
Recharge temperatures derived from noble gas concentrations were used in conjunction with an empirically derived local relationship between recharge temperature and elevation to constrain recharge elevation and to estimate fractions of mountain-block recharge (MBR) in sampled waters of Holocene age. Noble gas recharge temperatures indicate that ground water in the Southeast zone contains a significant fraction of MBR, commonly 20-50 percent or more. The same is apparently true for the Northeast zone, though only two data points could be used to evaluate the MBR fraction in this area. Recharge temperatures indicate that the upper 30 m of the regional aquifer on the Pajarito Plateau typically contain little or no MBR.
Tritium concentrations and apparent 3H/3He ages indicate that water in the mountain block is dominantly <50 years old, and water in the basin-fill is dominantly >50 years old, consistent with the 14C ages. Terrigenic He (Heterr) concentrations in ground water are high (log Delta Heterr of 2 to 5) throughout much of the basin. High Heterr concentrations are probably caused by in situ production in the Tesuque Formation from locally high concentrations of U-bearing minerals (Northeast zone only), or by upward diffusive/advective transport of crustal- and mantle-sourced He possibly enhanced by basement piercing faults, or by both. The 3He/4He ratio of Heterr (Rterr) is commonly high (Rterr/Ra of 0.3-2.0, where Ra is the 3He/4He ratio in air) suggesting that Espanola Basin ground water commonly contains mantle-sourced He. The 3He/4He ratio of Heterr is generally the highest in the western and southern parts of the basin, closest to the western border fault system and the Quaternary to Miocene volcanics of the Jemez Mountains and Cerros del Rio.