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Dating groundwater with dissolved silica and CFC concentrations in crystalline aquifers

Abstract : Estimating intermediate water residence times (a few years to a century) in shallow aquifers is critical to quantifying groundwater vulnerability to nutrient loading and estimating realistic recovery timelines. While intermediate groundwater residence times are currently determined with atmospheric tracers such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), these analyses are costly and would benefit from other tracer approaches to compensate for the decreasing resolution of CFC methods in the 5–20 years range. In this context, we developed a framework to assess the capacity of dissolved silica (DSi) to inform residence times in shallow aquifers. We calibrated silicate weathering rates with CFCs from multiple wells in five crystalline aquifers in Brittany and in the Vosges Mountains (France). DSi and CFCs were complementary in determining apparent weathering reactions and residence time distributions (RTDs) in shallow aquifers. Silicate weathering rates were surprisingly similar among Brittany aquifers, varying from 0.20 to 0.23 mg L−1 yr−1 with a coefficient of variation of 7%, except for the aquifer where significant groundwater abstraction occurred, where we observed a weathering rate of 0.31 mg L−1 yr−1. The silicate weathering rate was lower for the aquifer in the Vosges Mountains (0.12 mg L−1 yr−1), potentially due to differences in climate and anthropogenic solute loading. Overall, these optimized silicate weathering rates are consistent with previously published studies with similar apparent ages range. The consistency in silicate weathering rates suggests that DSi could be a robust and cheap proxy of mean residence times for recent groundwater (5–100 years) at the regional scale. This methodology could allow quantification of seasonal groundwater contributions to streams, estimation of residence times in the unsaturated zone and improve assessment of aquifer vulnerability to anthropogenic pollution.
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Jean Marçais, Alexandre Gauvain, Thierry Labasque, Benjamin Abbott, Gilles Pinay, et al.. Dating groundwater with dissolved silica and CFC concentrations in crystalline aquifers. Science of the Total Environment, Elsevier, 2018, 636, pp.260-272. ⟨10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.04.196⟩. ⟨insu-01779877⟩

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