Constraining the age distribution of highly mixed groundwater using 39Ar: A multiple environmental tracer (3H/3He, 85Kr, 39Ar, and 14C) study in the semiconfined Fontainebleau Sands Aquifer (France)



[1] A multitracer (3H/3He, 85Kr, 39Ar, and 14C) approach is used to investigate the age structure of groundwater in the semiconfined Fontainebleau Sands Aquifer that is located in the shallower part of the Paris Basin (France). The hydrogeological situation, which is characterized by spatially extended recharge, large screen intervals, and possible leakage from deeper aquifers, led us to expect a wide range of residence times and pronounced mixing of different water components. Consequently, a large set of tracers with corresponding dating ranges was adopted. Commonly used tracers for young groundwater (3H, 3He, and 85Kr) can identify only those components with ages below 50 years. This approach is reliable if a large fraction of the water recharge occurs within this period. However, if a considerable fraction is older than 50 years, a tracer that covers intermediate age ranges below 1000 years is needed. We examine the use of 39Ar, a noble gas radioisotope with a half-life of 269 years, to constrain the age distribution of groundwater in this timescale range. Recharge rate, depth of water table, and the age structure of the groundwater are estimated by inverse modeling. The obtained recharge rates of 100–150 mm/yr are comparable to estimations using hydrograph data. Best agreement between the modeled and measured tracer concentrations was achieved for a thickness of the unsaturated soil zone of 30–40 m, coinciding well with the observed thicknesses of the unsaturated zone in the area. Transport times of water and gas from the soil surface to the water table range between 10 and 40 and 1 and 6 years, respectively. Reconstructed concentrations of 85Kr and 3H at the water table were used for saturated flow modeling. The exponential box model was found to reproduce the field data best. Conceptionally, this finding agrees well with the spatially extended recharge and large screened intervals in the project area. Best fits between model and field results were obtained for mean residence times of 1–129 years. The 39Ar measurements as well as the box model approach indicate the presence of older waters (3H and 85Kr free). Using 39Ar to date this old component resulted in residence times of the old water components on the order of about 100–400 years. The 14C measurements provide additional evidence for the correctness of the proposed age structure.