The groundwater recharge regime of some slightly metamorphosed neoproterozoic sedimentary rocks: an application of natural environmental tracers



Isotope data of precipitation and groundwater in parts of the Voltaian Basin in Northern Ghana were used to explain the groundwater recharge regime in the area. Groundwater recharge is an important parameter in the development of a decision support system for the management and efficient utilization of groundwater resources in the area. It is therefore important to establish the processes and sources of groundwater recharge. δ18O and δ2H data for local precipitation suggest enrichment relative to the Global Meteoric Water Line (GMWL) and indicate that precipitation takes place at a relative humidity less than 100%. The groundwater data plot on an evaporation line with a slope of 5, suggesting a high degree of evaporative enrichment of the precipitation in the process of vertical infiltration and percolation through the unsaturated zone into the saturated zone. This finding is consistent with the observation of high evapotranspiration rates in the area and ties in with the fact that significant clay fraction in the unsaturated zone limits vertical percolation and thus exposes the percolating rainwater to the effects of high temperatures and low humidities resulting in high evapotranspiration rates. Groundwater recharge estimates from the chloride mass balance, CMB, method suggest recharge in the range of 1.8–32% of the annual average precipitation in the form of rainfall. The highest rates are associated with areas where open wells encourage significant amount of groundwater recharge from precipitation in the area. In the northern parts of the study area, groundwater recharge is lower than 12%. The recharge so computed through the application of the CMB methodology takes on a spatial distribution akin to the converse of the spatial pattern of both δ18O and δ2H in the area. As such, the locations of the highest recharge are associated with the most depleted values of the two isotopes. This observation is consistent with the assertion that low vertical hydraulic conductivities slow down vertical percolation of precipitation down to the groundwater water. The percolating precipitation water thus gets enriched in the heavier isotopes through high evapotranspiration rates. At the same time, the amount of water that finally reaches the water table is considerably reduced. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.