Environmental tracers age dating young groundwater

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Sampling for tracers The feasibility of using CFCs as tracers of recent recharge and indicators of ground-water age was first recognized in the 1970s (see Plummer and Busenberg, 1997 and references therein).

In the atmosphere, these substances have mixed and spread worldwide.

These atmospheric substances, such as tritium (H) in water vapor from detonation of nuclear bombs in the 1950s and early 1960s,and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from refrigeration and other uses from the 1950s through the 1980s, dissolve in precipitation, become incorporated in the Earth’s hydrologic cycle, and can be found in ground water that has been recharged within the past 50 years.

Prior to the late 1980s, however, there were no reliable means of dating ground water recharged during this time scale and, until recently, none of those methods were considered practical for use in establishing regional patterns.

In the early 1990s, USGS scientists (Busenberg and Plummer, 1992) developed a method to date ground water on the basis of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) content of the water that is practical, cost-effective, and applicable to most shallow ground-water systems.

H), and other chemical and isotopic substances in ground water, can be used to trace the flow of young water (water recharged within the past 50 years) and to determine the time elapsed since recharge.

Shallow ground-water systems are commonly used for drinking water sources and they make up a large part of the baseflow in rivers and lakes.

However, shallow ground-water supplies are generally young (recently recharged) and, because there has been a wide variety of man-made pollutants produced in the 20th century, are more susceptible to contamination than deeper ground water.

The detection of chlorofluorocarbons and tritium in ground water provides valuable information that can be used for dating and tracing young ground water—techniques that help water-resources managers develop management strategies for shallow ground-water systems.

Young ground water in shallow ground-water systems Young ground water is typically found at depths from 0 to 100 feet in unconsolidated sediments and at depths up to 1000 feet in fractured-rock systems.

Information about ground-water age can be used to determine recharge rates and refine hydrologic models of ground-water systems (Reilly and others, 1994; Szabo and others, 1996) and thus to predict the contamination potential and estimate the time needed to flush contaminants through a ground-water system.The 0- to 50-year time scale is particularly relevant to environmentally sensitive shallow ground-water systems.

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