Radiocarbon dating of modern groundwater: the role of the unsaturated zone


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Radiocarbon dating of modern groundwater: the role of the unsaturated zone
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Radiocarbon2012, 21st International Radiocarbon Conference
Gillon M., Barbecot F., Gibert E., Plain C., Corcho Alvarado J.A., Massault M.
Paris, France, July 9-13, 2012
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Biological and physical processes occurring in soils may lead to significant isotopic changes between the isotopic compositions of atmospheric CO2 and of soil CO2. Also, during water and gas transport from the soil surface to the water table, isotopic changes likely occur due to numerous physical processes such as gas production and diffusion, water advection, and gas-water-rock interactions. In most cases, these changes are not included in the correction models developed for groundwater dating, whereas they can significantly impact the calculation of the 14C age. We explore the role of these processes using: i) experimental data from two aquifer sites (Fontainebleau sands and Astian sands, France), ii) a distributed model to simulate the 14C activities of soil CO2, and iii) numerical simulations in order to highlight the role of the physical processes.¦The 13C content in soil CO2 showed seasonal variations and highlighted the competition between CO2 production and CO2 diffusion. Their respective contributions played a significant role in defining the isotopic composition of CO2 at the water table. On both study sites, variations of the 14C activity in soil CO2 reflect the competition between the fluxes of root derived-CO2 and organic matter derived-CO2. Since the nuclear weapon tests in the fifties and sixties, soil CO2 became significantly depleted in 14C compared to modern atmospheric CO2. Models that take into account this 14C depletion in soil CO2 for dating modern groundwater would lead to apparent younger 14C ages than models that only consider the 14C activity in atmospheric CO2. Moreover, since 2000-2005, the inverse effect is observed as soil CO2 is enriched in 14C compared to atmospheric CO2.¦Therefore, we conclude that the isotopic composition of CO2 at the water table have to be taken into account for the dating of modern groundwater. This requires a systematic sampling of soil CO2 and the measurement of its 13C and 14C contents. We used this information in a numerical simulation to calculate the evolution of isotopic composition of CO2 from the soil surface to the water table. This simulation integrated physical processes in the unsaturated zone (e.g. CO2 production and diffusion, water advection, etc.) and gas-water-rock interactions.
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30/07/2012 13:44
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20/08/2019 13:42
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