Ground water on Kwajalein Island is an important source of drinking water, particularly during periods of low rainfall. Fresh ground water is found as a thin lens underlain by saltwater. The concentration of dissolved ions increases with depth below the water table and proximity to the shoreline as high-salinity seawater mixes with fresh ground water. The maximum depth of the freshwater lens is 37 ft.
Chloride is assumed to be non-reactive under the range of geochemical conditions on the atoll. The concentration of chloride thus is used as a conservative constituent to evaluate freshwater-saltwater mixing within the aquifer. Concentrations of sodium and for the most part, potassium and sulfate, also appear to be determined by conservative mixing between saltwater and rain. Concentrations of calcium, magnesium, and strontium are higher than expected from conservative mixing; these higher concentrations are a result of the dissolution of carbonate minerals. An excess in dissolved inorganic carbon results from carbonate-mineral dissolution and from the oxidation of organic matter in the aquifer; the stoichiometric difference between excess dissolved inorganic carbon and excess bivalent cations is used as a measure of the amount of organic-matter oxidation. Organic-matter oxidation also is indicated by the low concentration of dissolved oxygen, high concentrations of nutrients, and the presence of hydrogen sulfide in many of the water samples. Low levels of dissolved oxygen indicate oxic respiration, and sulfate reduction is indicated by hydrogen sulfide.
The amount of dissolved inorganic carbon released during organic-matter oxidation is nearly equivalent to the amount of carbonate-mineral dissolution. Organic-matter oxidation and carbonate-mineral dissolution seem to be most active either in the unsaturated zone or near the top of the water table. The most plausible explanation is that high amounts of oxic respiration in the unsaturated zone generate carbon dioxide, which causes carbonate minerals to dissolve. Ground water contaminated by petroleum hydrocarbons had the highest levels of mineral dissolution and organic respiration (including sulfate reduction), indicating that bacteria are oxidizing the contaminants.