A Mountain-Front Recharge Component Characterization Approach Combining Groundwater Age Distributions, Noble Gas Thermometry, and Fluid and Energy Transport Modeling

Katherine H. Markovich, Laura E. Condon, Kenneth C. Carroll, Roland Purtschert, Jennifer C. McIntosh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Mountain-front recharge (MFR), or all inflow to a basin-fill aquifer with its source in the mountain block, is an important component of recharge to basin-fill aquifer systems. Distinguishing and quantifying the surface from subsurface components of MFR is necessary for water resource planning and management, particularly as climate change may impact these components in distinct ways. This study tests the hypothesis that MFR components can be distinguished in long-screened, basin-fill production wells by (1) groundwater age and (2) the median elevation of recharge. We developed an MFR characterization approach by combining age distributions in six wells using tritium, krypton-85, argon-39, and radiocarbon, and median recharge elevations from noble gas thermometry combined with numerical experiments to determine recharge temperature lapse rates using flow and energy transport modeling. We found that groundwater age distributions provided valuable information for characterizing the dominant flow system behavior captured by the basin-fill production wells. Tracers indicated the presence of old (i.e., no detectable tritium) water in a well completed in weathered bedrock located close to the mountain front. Two production wells exhibited age distributions of binary mixing between modern and a small fraction of old water, whereas the remaining wells captured predominantly modern flow paths. Noble gas thermometry provided important complementary information to the age distributions; however, assuming constant recharge temperature lapse rates produced improbable recharge elevations. Numerical experiments suggest that surface MFR, if derived from snowmelt, can locally suppress water table temperatures in the basin-fill aquifer, with implications for recharge elevations estimated from noble gas thermometry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020WR027743
JournalWater Resources Research
Volume57
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2021

Keywords

  • argon-39
  • fluid and energy transport modeling
  • groundwater age distributions
  • groundwater recharge
  • mountain-front recharge
  • noble gas thermometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology

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