Isotopic evidence for palaeowaters in the British Isles

Darling, W.G.; Edmunds, W.M.; Smedley, P.L.. 1997 Isotopic evidence for palaeowaters in the British Isles. Applied Geochemistry, 12 (6). 813-829.

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Before the 20th century, groundwater circulation in the aquifers of the British Isles had largely adjusted to the temperate maritime climate and sea levels established over the past 10 ka since the end of the Pleistocene. However, in the last 100 a this natural regime has been disturbed by abstraction of water for public supply and industrial use, and palaeowaters from earlier recharge episodes are now becoming a factor to be considered in water balance estimates. This paper presents a synthesis of the existing palaeowater distribution in the British Isles, based on isotopic evidence (δ18O, δ2H and and14C). As such, it has relevance to palaeoclimatic studies in addition to the water resource implications. The Triassic basins of England and Northern Ireland contain saline waters beyond the range14C dating (>; 40 ka). Stable isotopic ratios show enrichment in some basins and depletion in others, without an overall pattern that would explain all the observed compositions. The results for the Wessex basin suggest recharge in pre-Quaternary times, but for the other basins some flushing by Pleistocene or Holocene meteoric waters is indicated. Isolated occurrences of apparently long-residence waters are found elsewhere throughout the British Isles, for example from Carboniferous and Lower Palaeozoic strata. In such cases, environmental isotopes are more useful as constraints on hydrogeological models than as indicators of palaeoconditions. Major water supply aquifers are restricted almost entirely to England. The two sandstone formations (Triassic Sherwood Sandstone and Cretaceous Lower Greensand) have a greater range of stable isotopic values between phreatic and confined conditions than the two carbonate formations (Jurassic Lincolnshire Limestone and Cretaceous Chalk). This indicates that the sandstone aquifers are better archives of information on palaeoconditions than the carbonate aquifers. They show that atmospheric circulation patterns over Britain have probably remained the same since the late Pleistocene. However,14C data from all four of the major aquifers emphasise the hiatus in recharge during periglacial conditions which occurred between the late Pleistocene and early Holocene.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: BGS Programmes > Groundwater Management
ISSN: 0883-2927
Additional Keywords: GroundwaterBGS, Groundwater, Groundwater dating
Related URLs:
Date made live: 01 Dec 2010 15:03 +0 (UTC)

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