Hydrochemical and stable isotope evidence for the extent and nature of the effective Chalk aquifer of north Norfolk, UK

K. M. Hiscock, P. F. Dennis, P. R. Saynor, M. O. Thomas

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In eastern England the Chalk aquifer is covered by extensive Pleistocene deposits which influence the hydraulic conditions and hydrochemical nature of the underlying aquifer. In this study, the results of geophysical borehole logging of groundwater temperature and electrical conductivity and depth sampling for major ion concentrations and stable isotope compositions (δ18O and δ2H) are interpreted to reveal the extent and nature of the effective Chalk aquifer of north Norfolk. It is found that the Chalk aquifer can be divided into an upper region of fresh groundwater, with a Cl concentration of typically less than 100 mg l-1, and a lower region of increasingly saline water. The transition between the two regions is approximately 50 m below sea-level, and results in an effective aquifer thickness of 50-60 m in the west of the area, but less than 25 m where the Eocene London Clay boundary is met in the east of the area. Hydrochemical variations in the effective aquifer are related to different hydraulic conditions developed in the Chalk. Where the Chalk is confined by low-permeability Chalky Boulder Clay, isotopically depleted groundwater (δ18O less than -7.5‰) is present, in contrast to those areas of unconfined Chalk where glacial deposits are thin or absent (δ18O about -7.0‰). The isotopically depleted groundwater is evidence for groundwater recharge during the late Pleistocene under conditions when mean surface air temperatures are estimated to have been 4.5°C cooler than at the present day, and suggests long groundwater residence times in the confined aquifer. Elevated molar Mg:Ca ratios of more than 0.2 resulting from progressive rock-water interaction in the confined aquifer also indicate long residence times. A conceptual hydrochemical model for the present situation proposes that isotopically depleted groundwater, occupying areas where confined groundwater dates from the late Pleistocene, is being slowly modified by both diffusion and downward infiltration of modern meteoric water and diffusive mixing from below with an old saline water body.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-107
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Issue number1-4
Publication statusPublished - 1996

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