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Time-dependent factors inherent in the age equation for determining residence times of groundwater using (super 14) C; a procedure to compensate for the past variability of (super 14) C in atmospheric carbon dioxide, with application to the Wairau deep aquifer, Marlborough, New Zealand.

Claude B Taylor


The radiocarbon concentration of dissolved inorganic carbon in groundwater is most logically and completely represented as the product of 5 time-variable factors; these are mutually independent, and all must be considered and evaluated to determine a groundwater residence time. In the case of one factor, the (super 14) C/( (super 12) C+ (super 13) C) ratio of atmospheric CO (sub 2) , its time variability can be side-stepped by assuming it to be constant at the pre-bomb 1950 value, and assigning an apparent half-life in the radioactive decay term. Apparent half-lives are calculated here for 5 separate periods extending back to 24,000 BP, working from the INTCAL98 atmospheric calibration. This approach can be extended further back in time when the necessary atmospheric calibrations are updated with greater certainty. The procedure is applied to the recently-explored Wairau Deep Aquifer, underlying central areas of the coastal Wairau Plain, Marlborough. The evolution of dissolved inorganic carbon concentration for this river-recharged groundwater is apparent from distinct trends in (super 13) C, and is confirmed by hydrochemical modelling. Extension to (super 14) C concentrations yields minimum/maximum limits for groundwater residence times to 3 wells. In all 3 cases, the maximum is uncertain due to present uncertainty of the apparent half-life applicable before 24,000 BP. Residence times for the 2 wells closest to the recharge area are at least 17,400 yr, while that for a well further down the aquifer is at least 38,500 yr. Recharge, therefore, occurred during the Otiran glaciation, while the present-day near-surface fluvioglacial deposits of the Wairau Plain were accumulating. Drawdown-recovery records over 3 yr indicate a permeable connection to compensating recharge, enabling limited exploitation for vineyard irrigation.


absolute age;alluvium aquifers;aquifers ;Australasia ;C 13 C 12;C 14;carbon ;case studies;Cenozoic ;concentration ;corrections ;dates ;geochemistry ;ground water;hydrochemistry ;hydrogen ;isotope ratios;isotopes ;Marlborough New Zealand;New Zealand;O 18 O 16;oxygen ;principles ;Quaternary ;radioactive isotopes;recharge ;residence time;South Island;stable isotopes;tritium ;upper Quaternary;Wairau Plain

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