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Temperature as a natural tracer of short residence times for groundwater in karst aquifers

Temperature as a natural tracer of short residence times for groundwater in karst aquifers

Karst Waters Institute Special Publication 5: 236-242

Chemistry of karst waters is controlled by reactions with aquifer rocks, the extent of mixing between water sources, and variations in the composition of recharged water. The extent of reactions and mixing may be determined uniquely if compositions of both recharged and discharged water are known, such as where sinking streams are linked to resurgent springs, and if residence time in the subsurface can be measured. Such a linked system occurs along the Santa Fe River in north-central Florida, where the river flows underground for approximately 5.2 km as it crosses from confined to unconfined portions of the Floridan Aquifer. Temporal variations in temperature can be correlated between the river sink, the river rise, and Sweetwater Lake, a karst window approximately midway between the sink and rise. Delays in the arrival time of temperature maxima and minima from the sink to Sweetwater Lake and from Sweetwater Lake to the Rise reflect the residence time of the river water in the subsurface. Residence time correlates with the river stage and ranges from approximately 12 hours to more than four days at high and low stage, respectively between the river sink and Sweetwater Lake, and from about six hours to nearly two days at high and low stage, respectively, between Sweetwater Lake and the river rise. These short residence times reflect minimum flow rates of between 1.3 and 9 km/day, indicating conduit flow. Knowing the residence time at any stage allows sampling of water as it enters the aquifer, and then again as it discharges. Changes in the chemistry of water as it passes through the subsurface should reflect chemical reactions, mixing, or both.

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