Tracing groundwater flow and sources of organic carbon in sandstone aquifers using fluorescence properties of dissolved organic matter (DOM)

Lapworth, Daniel Joseph ORCID:; Gooddy, Daren; Butcher, Andrew; Morris, Brian. 2008 Tracing groundwater flow and sources of organic carbon in sandstone aquifers using fluorescence properties of dissolved organic matter (DOM). Applied Geochemistry, 23 (12). 3384-3390.

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The fluorescence properties of groundwaters from sites in two UK aquifers, the Penrith Sandstone of Cumbria and the Sherwood Sandstone of South Yorkshire, were investigated using excitation-emission matrix (EEM) fluorescence spectroscopy. Both aquifers are regionally important sources of public supply water and are locally impacted by anthropogenic pollution. The Penrith Sandstone site is in a rural setting while the Sherwood Sandstone site is in suburban Doncaster. Fluorescence analysis of samples from discrete sample depths in the Penrith Sandstone shows decreasing fulvic-like intensities with depth and also shows a good correlation with CFC-12, an anthropogenic groundwater tracer. Tryptophan- like fluorescence centres in the depth profile may also provide evidence of rapid routing of relatively recent applications of organic slurry along fractures. Fluorescence analysis of groundwater sampled from multi-level piezometers installed within the Sherwood Sandstone aquifer also shows regions of tryptophan-like and relatively higher fulvic-like signatures. The fluorescence intensity profile in the piezometers shows tryptophan-like peaks at depths in excess of 50 metres and mirrors the pattern exhibited by microbial species and CFCs highlighting the deep and rapid penetration of modern recharge due to rapid fracture flow. Fluorescence analysis has allowed the rapid assessment of different types and relative abundances of dissolved organic matter (DOM), and the fingerprinting of different sources of organic carbon within the groundwater system. The tryptophan:fulvic ratios found in the Penrith Sandstone were found to be between (0.5–3.0) and are characteristic of ratios from sheep waste sources. The Sherwood Sandstone has the lowest ratios (0.2–0.4) indicating a different source of DOM, most likely a mixture of terrestrial and microbial sources, although there is little evidence of pollution from leaking urban sewage systems. Results from these two studies suggest that intrinsic fluorescence may be used as a proxy for, or complimentary tool to, other groundwater investigation methods in helping provide a conceptual model of groundwater flow and identifying different sources of DOM within the groundwater system.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: BGS Programmes 2008 > Groundwater resources
ISSN: 0883-2927
Additional Keywords: GroundwaterBGS, Groundwater, Environmental tracers, Groundwater quality, Major aquifer
NORA Subject Terms: Agriculture and Soil Science
Earth Sciences
Related URLs:
Date made live: 07 Oct 2008 09:13 +0 (UTC)

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