Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Groundwater noble gas, age, and temperature signatures in an Alpine watershed: Valuable tools in conceptual model development

January 1, 2007

Bedrock groundwater in alpine watersheds is poorly understood, mainly because of a scarcity of wells in alpine settings. Groundwater noble gas, age, and temperature data were collected from springs and wells with depths of 3–342 m in Handcart Gulch, an alpine watershed in Colorado. Temperature profiles indicate active groundwater circulation to a maximum depth (aquifer thickness) of about 200 m, or about 150 m below the water table. Dissolved noble gas data show unusually high excess air concentrations (>0.02 cm3 STP/g, ΔNe > 170%) in the bedrock, consistent with unusually large seasonal water table fluctuations (up to 50 m) observed in the upper part of the watershed. Apparent 3H/3He ages are positively correlated with sample depth and excess air concentrations. Integrated samples were collected from artesian bedrock wells near the trunk stream and are assumed to approximate flow‐weighted samples reflecting bedrock aquifer mean residence times. Exponential mean ages for these integrated samples are remarkably consistent along the stream, four of five being from 8 to 11 years. The tracer data in combination with other hydrologic and geologic data support a relatively simple conceptual model of groundwater flow in the watershed in which (1) permeability is primarily a function of depth; (2) water table fluctuations increase with distance from the stream; and (3) recharge, aquifer thickness, and porosity are relatively uniform throughout the watershed in spite of the geological complexity of the Proterozoic crystalline rocks that underlie it.