This report evaluates dissolved noble gas data, specifically helium-3 and helium-4, collected by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the San Antonio Water System, during 2002-03. Helium analyses are used to provide insight into the sources of groundwater in the freshwater/saline-water transition zone of the San Antonio segment of the Edwards aquifer. Sixty-nine dissolved gas samples were collected from 19 monitoring wells (categorized as fresh, transitional, or saline on the basis of dissolved solids concentration in samples from the wells or from fluid-profile logging of the boreholes) arranged in five transects, with one exception, across the freshwater/saline-water interface (the 1,000-milligrams-per-liter dissolved solids concentration threshold) of the Edwards aquifer. The concentration of helium-4 (the dominant isotope in atmospheric and terrigenic helium) in samples ranged from 63 microcubic centimeters per kilogram at standard temperature (20 degrees Celsius) and pressure (1 atmosphere) in a well in the East Uvalde transect to 160,587 microcubic centimeters per kilogram at standard temperature and pressure in a well in the Kyle transect. Helium-4 concentrations in the 10 saline wells generally increase from the western transects to the eastern transects. Increasing helium-4 concentrations from southwest to northeast in the transition zone, indicating increasing residence time of groundwater from southwest to northeast, is consistent with the longstanding conceptualization of the Edwards aquifer in which water recharges in the southwest, flows generally northeasterly (including in the transition zone, although more slowly than in the fresh-water zone), and discharges at major springs in the northeast. Excess helium-4 was greater than 1,000 percent for 60 of the 69 samples, indicating that terrigenic helium is largely present and that most of the excess helium-4 comes from sources other than the atmosphere. The helium data of this report cannot be used to identify sources of groundwater in and near the transition zone of the Edwards aquifer in terms of specific geologic (stratigraphic) units or hydrogeologic units (aquifers or confining units). However, the data indicate that the source or sources of the helium, and thus the water in which the helium is dissolved, in the transition zone are mostly terrigenic in origin rather than atmospheric. Whether most helium in and near the transition zone of the Edwards aquifer originated either in rocks outside the transition zone and at depth or in the adjacent Trinity aquifer is uncertain; but most of the helium in the transition zone had to enter the transition zone from the Trinity aquifer because the Trinity aquifer is the hydrogeologic unit immediately beneath and laterally adjacent to the transition zone of the Edwards aquifer. Thus the helium data support a hypothesis of sufficient hydraulic connection between the Trinity and Edwards aquifers to allow movement of water from the Trinity aquifer to the transition zone of the Edwards aquifer.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Sources of Groundwater Based on Helium Analyses in and near the Freshwater/Saline-Water Transition Zone of the San Antonio Segment of the Edwards Aquifer, South-Central Texas, 2002-03