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Identifying trends in groundwater quality using residence time indicators : an example from the Permian aquifer of Dumfries, Scotland

By Alan M. MacDonald, W. George Darling, Derek F. Ball and Harald Oster


The Permian sandstone and breccia aquifer of Dumfries has an important role in supplying water to the principal town in southwest Scotland. The area comprises mainly pastoral farmland with some industry and fish farming. Ongoing development of the aquifer has revealed the existence of complex groundwater flow through fractures and increasing nitrate concentrations. To further investigate these issues, the age and quality of groundwater throughout the aquifer has now been assessed using standard hydrogeochemical techniques together with CFCs and SF6 as residence time indicators. The aquifer consists of sandstone- and breccia-dominated units: the Locharbriggs Sandstone in the east and the Doweel Breccia in the west. Groundwater throughout the aquifer is of Ca–Mg–HCO3 type and moderately mineralised; pH is near neutral. The observed groundwater chemistry is the product of maritime rainfall modified by the dissolution of carbonate material in the breccia, sandstone and surficial deposits. CFC and SF6 concentrations are interpreted on the basis of mixing between older (>50 years) and recent (1990s) components. Although there is generally a higher proportion of older water within the Locharbriggs Sandstone compared to the Doweel Breccia, stable isotope evidence suggests that the older water component in the interbedded sandstones of the breccia is of much greater antiquity, possibly containing an element of palaeowater. Concentrations of nitrate across the aquifer can be directly related to the amount of recent recharge. Modern groundwater contains approximately 9 mg l–1 NO3-N and pre-1950s groundwater has approximately 2 mg l–1 NO3-N. Nitrate concentrations measured at individual boreholes are explained by the relative proportions of modern and pre-1950s groundwater. If current practices continue, the concentrations of nitrate measured across the Dumfries Basin will rise as the proportion of pre-1950s groundwater diminishes

Topics: Earth Sciences
Publisher: Springer
Year: 2003
DOI identifier: 10.1007/s10040-003-0275-3
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