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Using noble gases to investigate mountain-front recharge

Authors
Journal
Journal of Hydrology
0022-1694
Publisher
Elsevier
Publication Date
Volume
275
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1016/s0022-1694(03)00043-x
Keywords
  • Noble Gases
  • Recharge
  • Temperature
  • Mountains
  • Ground Water
  • Tracers

Abstract

Abstract Mountain-front recharge is a major component of recharge to inter-mountain basin-fill aquifers. The two components of mountain-front recharge are (1) subsurface inflow from the mountain block (subsurface inflow), and (2) infiltration from perennial and ephemeral streams near the mountain front (stream seepage). The magnitude of subsurface inflow is of central importance in source protection planning for basin-fill aquifers and in some water rights disputes, yet existing estimates carry large uncertainties. Stable isotope ratios can indicate the magnitude of mountain-front recharge relative to other components, but are generally incapable of distinguishing subsurface inflow from stream seepage. Noble gases provide an effective tool for determining the relative significance of subsurface inflow, specifically. Dissolved noble gas concentrations allow for the determination of recharge temperature, which is correlated with recharge elevation. The nature of this correlation cannot be assumed, however, and must be derived for the study area. The method is applied to the Salt Lake Valley Principal Aquifer in northern Utah to demonstrate its utility. Samples from 16 springs and mine tunnels in the adjacent Wasatch Mountains indicate that recharge temperature decreases with elevation at about the same rate as the mean annual air temperature, but is on average about 2 °C cooler. Samples from 27 valley production wells yield recharge elevations ranging from the valley elevation (about 1500 m) to mid-mountain elevation (about 2500 m). Only six of the wells have recharge elevations less than 1800 m. Recharge elevations consistently greater than 2000 m in the southeastern part of the basin indicate that subsurface inflow constitutes most of the total recharge in this area.

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