Recharge and source-water insights from the Galapagos Islands using noble gases and stable isotopes
Water table temperatures inferred from dissolved noble gas concentrations (noble gas temperatures, NGT) are useful as a quantitative proxy for air temperature change since the last glacial maximum. Despite their importance in paleoclimate research, few studies have investigated the relationship between NGT and actual recharge temperatures in field settings. This study presents dissolved noble gas data from a shallow unconfined aquifer heavily impacted by agriculture. Considering samples unaffected by degassing, NGT calculated from common physically based interpretive gas dissolution models that correct measured noble gas concentrations for "excess air" agreed with measured water table temperatures (WTT). The ability to fit data to multiple interpretive models indicates that model goodness-of-fit does not necessarily mean that the model reflects actual gas dissolution processes. Although NGT are useful in that they reflect WTT, caution is recommended when using these interpretive models. There was no measurable difference in excess air characteristics (amount and degree of fractionation) between two recharge regimes studied (higher flux recharge primarily during spring and summer vs. continuous, low flux recharge). Approximately 20% of samples had dissolved gas concentrations below equilibrium concentration with respect to atmospheric pressure, indicating degassing. Geochemical and dissolved gas data indicate that saturated zone denitrification caused degassing by gas stripping. Modeling indicates that minor degassing (<10% DeltaNe) may cause underestimation of ground water recharge temperature by up to 2 degrees C. Such errors are problematic because degassing may not be apparent and degassed samples may be fit by a model with a high degree of certainty.