Demonstration of a Groundwater Age Determination Using 39Ar in Support of a Multi-Tracer Groundwater Analysis of Wells in Fresno, CA
Abstract:Argon-39 has a half-life of 269 years, making it an ideal tracer for groundwater dating in the age range of 50-1000 years. In September 2014, two production wells within the San Joaquin Valley Aquifer System, located in Fresno, CA were sampled and analyzed for a suite of inorganic and organic contaminants and isotopic constituents. The radiotracers 3H (< 50 years) and 14C (> 1000 years) are routinely measured as part of the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Enhanced Trends Network project. Adding 39Ar to the suite of tracers provides age data in the intermediate range to refine the groundwater age distribution of mixed waters and establishes groundwater residence times and flow rates. Characterizing the groundwater recharge and flow rate is of particular interest at these wells for determining the sources and movement of contaminants in groundwater, particularly nitrate, DBCP, and perchlorate.
The sampled wells were pumped and purged. The sample collection for the 39Ar measurements required extracting the dissolved gases from 3000-5000 L of groundwater using a membrane degasification system with a maximum flow rate of 50 gpm (11.4 m^3/hr). The membranes are plastic hollow fibers that are hydrophobic. The gas was collected in duplicate large aluminum coated plastic sample bags. The gas was purified and then counted via direct beta counting using ultra-low background proportional counters loaded with a mixture of geologic Ar and methane to enhance the sensitivity for Ar measurements. The activity of 39Ar is 1.01 Bq/kg Ar, corresponding to an abundance of 0.808 ppq. The estimated absolute ages of the samples from the two groundwater wells were 23.3 and 27.0 percent of modern Ar. The comparison of the groundwater residence times determined using the suite of radiotracers (3H, 39Ar, and 14C) highlighted the value of knowing the intermediate age of groundwater when determining contaminant fate and transport pathways.