Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Geochemistry of dissolved inorganic carbon in a Coastal Plain aquifer. 2. Modeling carbon sources, sinks, and δ13C evolution

January 1, 1991

Stable isotope data for dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), carbonate shell material and cements, and microbial CO2 were combined with organic and inorganic chemical data from aquifer and confining-bed pore waters to construct geochemical reaction models along a flowpath in the Black Creek aquifer of South Carolina. Carbon-isotope fractionation between DIC and precipitating cements was treated as a Rayleigh distillation process. Organic matter oxidation was coupled to microbial fermentation and sulfate reduction. All reaction models reproduced the observed chemical and isotopic compositions of final waters. However, model 1, in which all sources of carbon and electron-acceptors were assumed to be internal to the aquifer, was invalidated owing to the large ratio of fermentation CO2 to respiration CO2 predicted by the model (5–49) compared with measured ratios (two or less). In model 2, this ratio was reduced by assuming that confining beds adjacent to the aquifer act as sources of dissolved organic carbon and sulfate. This assumption was based on measured high concentrations of dissolved organic acids and sulfate in confining-bed pore waters (60–100 μM and 100–380 μM, respectively) relative to aquifer pore waters (from less than 30 μM and 2–80 μM, respectively). Sodium was chosen as the companion ion to organic-acid and sulfate transport from confining beds because it is the predominant cation in confining-bed pore waters. As a result, excessive amounts of Na-for-Ca ion exchange and calcite precipitation (three to four times more cement than observed in the aquifer) were required by model 2 to achieve mass and isotope balance of final water. For this reason, model 2 was invalidated. Agreement between model-predicted and measured amounts of carbonate cement and ratios of fermentation CO2 to respiration CO2 were obtained in a reaction model that assumed confining beds act as sources of DIC, as well as organic acids and sulfate. This assumption was supported by measured high concentrations of DIC in confining beds (2.6–2.7 mM). Results from this study show that geochemical models of confined aquifer systems must incorporate the effects of adjacent confining beds to reproduce observed groundwater chemistry accurately.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1991
Title Geochemistry of dissolved inorganic carbon in a Coastal Plain aquifer. 2. Modeling carbon sources, sinks, and δ13C evolution
DOI 10.1016/0022-1694(91)90111-T
Authors Peter B. McMahon, Francis H. Chapelle
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Hydrology
Series Number
Index ID 70016362
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization