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Convergent Radial Tracing of Viral and Solute Transport in Gneiss Saprolite


Department of Geography, University College London, Gower St., London WC1E 6BT, UK; +44 (0)207 679 0591; fax: +44 (0)207 679 0565;


Deeply weathered crystalline rock aquifer systems comprising unconsolidated saprolite and underlying fractured bedrock (saprock) underlie 40% of sub-Saharan Africa. The vulnerability of this aquifer system to contamination, particularly in rapidly urbanizing areas, remains poorly understood. In order to assess solute and viral transport in saprolite derived from Precambrian gneiss, forced-gradient tracer experiments using chloride and Escherichia coli phage ΦX174 were conducted in southeastern Uganda. The bacteriophage tracer was largely unrecovered; adsorption to the weathered crystalline rock matrix is inferred and enabled by the low pH (5.7) of site ground water and the bacteriophage's relatively high isoelectric point (pI = 6.6). Detection of the applied ΦX174 phage in the pumping well discharge at early times during the experiment traces showed, however, that average ground water flow velocities exceed that of the inert solute tracer, chloride. This latter finding is consistent with observations in other hydrogeological environments where statistically extreme sets of microscopic flow velocities are considered to transport low numbers of fecal pathogens and their proxies along a selected range of linked ground water pathways. Application of a radial advection-dispersion model with an exponentially decaying source term to the recovered chloride tracer estimates a dispersivity (α) of 0.8 ± 0.1 m over a distance of 4.15 m. Specific yield (Sy) is estimated to be 0.02 from volume balance calculations based on tracer experiments. As single-site observations, our estimates of saprolite Sy and α are tentative but provide a starting point for assessing the vulnerability of saprolite aquifers in sub-Saharan Africa to contamination and estimating quantitatively the impact of climate and abstraction on ground water storage.

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