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Deglacial water-table decline in Southern California recorded by noble gas isotopes

December 16, 2019

Constraining the magnitude of past hydrological change may improve understanding and predictions of future shifts in water availability. Here we demonstrate that water-table depth, a sensitive indicator of hydroclimate, can be quantitatively reconstructed using Kr and Xe isotopes in groundwater. We present the first-ever measurements of these dissolved noble gas isotopes in groundwater at high precision (≤0.005‰ amu−1; 1σ), which reveal depth-proportional signals set by gravitational settling in soil air at the time of recharge. Analyses of California groundwater successfully reproduce modern groundwater levels and indicate a 17.9 ± 1.3 m (±1 SE) decline in water-table depth in Southern California during the last deglaciation. This hydroclimatic transition from the wetter glacial period to more arid Holocene accompanies a surface warming of 6.2 ± 0.6 °C (±1 SE). This new hydroclimate proxy builds upon an existing paleo-temperature application of noble gases and may identify regions prone to future hydrological change.