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Title: Laboratory Experiments to Evaluate Matrix Diffusion of Dissolved Organic Carbon Carbon-14 in Southern Nevada Fractured-rock Aquifers

Dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) carbon-14 (14C) is used to estimate groundwater ages by comparing the DIC 14C content in groundwater in the recharge area to the DIC 14C content in the downgradient sampling point. However, because of chemical reactions and physical processes between groundwater and aquifer rocks, the amount of DIC 14C in groundwater can change and result in 14C loss that is not because of radioactive decay. This loss of DIC 14C results in groundwater ages that are older than the actual groundwater ages. Alternatively, dissolved organic carbon (DOC) 14C in groundwater does not react chemically with aquifer rocks, so DOC 14C ages are generally younger than DIC 14C ages. In addition to chemical reactions, 14C ages may also be altered by the physical process of matrix diffusion. The net effect of a continuous loss of 14C to the aquifer matrix by matrix diffusion and then radioactive decay is that groundwater appears to be older than it actually is. Laboratory experiments were conducted to measure matrix diffusion coefficients for DOC 14C in volcanic and carbonate aquifer rocks from southern Nevada. Experiments were conducted using bromide (Br-) as a conservative tracer and 14C-labeled trimesic acid (TMA) as a surrogate formore » groundwater DOC. Outcrop samples from six volcanic aquifers and five carbonate aquifers in southern Nevada were used. The average DOC 14C matrix diffusion coefficient for volcanic rocks was 2.9 x 10-7 cm2/s, whereas the average for carbonate rocks was approximately the same at 1.7 x 10-7 cm2/s. The average Br- matrix diffusion coefficient for volcanic rocks was 10.4 x 10-7 cm2/s, whereas the average for carbonate rocks was less at 6.5 x 10-7 cm2/s. Carbonate rocks exhibited greater variability in DOC 14C and Br- matrix diffusion coefficients than volcanic rocks. These results confirmed, at the laboratory scale, that the diffusion of DOC 14C into southern Nevada volcanic and carbonate aquifers is slower than DIC 14C. Because of the apparent sorption of 14C-labeled TMA in the experiments, matrix diffusion coefficients are likely even lower. The reasons for the higher than expected Br-/14C-labeled TMA are unknown. Because the molecular size of TMA is on the low end of the range in molecular size for typical humic substances, the matrix diffusion coefficients for the 14C-labeled TMA likely represent close to the maximum diffusion rates for DOC 14C in the volcanic and carbonate aquifers in southern Nevada.« less
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  1. Nevada University, Reno, NV (United States). Desert Research Institute
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Nevada Field Office, Las Vegas, NV (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)
Country of Publication:
United States