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Title: Dissolved Organic Carbon 14C in Southern Nevada Groundwater and Implications for Groundwater Travel Times

Dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) carbon-14 (14C) ages must be corrected for complex chemical and physical reactions and processes that change the amount of 14C in groundwater as it flows from recharge to downgradient areas. Because of these reactions, DIC 14C can produce unrealistically old ages and long groundwater travel times that may, or may not, agree with travel times estimated by other methods. Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) 14C ages are often younger than DIC 14C ages because there are few chemical reactions or physical processes that change the amount of DOC 14C in groundwater. However, there are several issues that create uncertainty in DOC 14C groundwater ages including limited knowledge of the initial (A0) DOC 14C in groundwater recharge and potential changes in DOC composition as water moves through an aquifer. This study examines these issues by quantifying A0 DOC 14C in recharge areas of southern Nevada groundwater flow systems and by evaluating changes in DOC composition as water flows from recharge areas to downgradient areas. The effect of these processes on DOC 14C groundwater ages is evaluated and DOC and DIC 14C ages are then compared along several southern Nevada groundwater flow paths. Twenty-seven groundwater samples were collected frommore » springs and wells in southern Nevada in upgradient, midgradient, and downgradient locations. DOC 14C for upgradient samples ranged from 96 to 120 percent modern carbon (pmc) with an average of 106 pmc, verifying modern DOC 14C ages in recharge areas, which decreases uncertainty in DOC 14C A0 values, groundwater ages, and travel times. The HPLC spectra of groundwater along a flow path in the Spring Mountains show the same general pattern indicating that the DOC compound composition does not change along this flow path. Although DOC concentration decreases from recharge-area to downgradient groundwater, the organic compounds are similar, indicating that DOC 14C is unaffected by other processes such as microbial degradation. A small amount of organic carbon was leached from crushed volcanic and carbonate aquifer outcrop rock in rock-leaching experiments. The leached DOC was high in 14C (75 pmc carbonate rocks, 91 pmc volcanic) suggesting that the leached DOC likely came from microbes in the rock samples. The small amount of DOC and high 14C indicates that the amount of old organic carbon in these rocks is low so there should be minimal impact on groundwater DOC 14C ages. Based on the results from this study, DOC 14C ages do not require additional corrections. Several correction models were applied to DIC 14C ages to correct for water-rock reactions along two carbonate and two volcanic flow paths and the corresponding travel times were compare to DOC 14C travel times. The DOC 14C travel times were hundreds to thousands of years shorter than uncorrected and corrected DIC 14C travel times except for the upper section of one carbonate flow path. DOC 14C travel times ranged from 400 to 5,400 years as compared to DIC 14C that ranged from modern to 20,900 years. The DIC 14C ages are greatly influenced by carbonate mineral and gas reactions and other processes such as matrix diffusion, isotope exchange, or adsorption, which are not always adequately accounted for in DIC 14C groundwater age correction models.« less
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  1. Nevada University, Reno, NV (United States). Desert Research Institute
Publication Date:
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Report Number(s):
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Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Nevada University, Reno, NV (United States). Desert Research Institute
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)
Country of Publication:
United States