Identifying recharge processes into a vast “fossil” aquifer based on dynamic groundwater 81Kr age evolution

Roi Ram, Avihu Burg, Jake C. Zappala, Reika Yokochi, Yoseph Yechieli, Roland Purtschert, Wei Jiang, Zheng Tian Lu, Peter Mueller, Ryan Bernier, Eilon M. Adar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Water in deep aquifers in arid regions is often considered to be “fossil” when modern recharge rates are negligible relative to the reservoir capacity. Over the past five decades, the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer (NSA) in the arid region of the Sinai Peninsula (Egypt) and the Negev Desert (Israel) has been considered to contain fossil water based on 14C dating, which revealed 14C ages of about 30 kyr over most of the aquifer. However, this relatively homogeneous age distribution contradicts the expected increase in groundwater age in the direction of decreasing piezometric head along the flow trajectories. Here, dating results with the longer-lived 81Kr radioisotope (t1/2 = 229 ± 11 kyr) are presented, highlighting a wide age range of 40 kyr to 630 kyr in the confined sections of the aquifer, all with very low 14C activity (<1 pmC). Elevated 81Kr and 14C activities were only observed within or close to the system's recharge areas. These findings support a new perception of groundwater replenishment during different epochs from the early mid-Pleistocene to the Holocene. By tracking the downstream age evolution, rejuvenation was identified in places where the confinement had been breached. At other locations, the existence of an older groundwater body contributing to the aquifer was detected by means of strongly depleted 81Kr activity. High spatial heterogeneity in groundwater ages close to the discharge zone of the system is attributed to pronounced age stratification with depth. Calculated ages in the more isolated sections of the system were used to assess regional flow velocity, hydraulic conductivity, and their agreement with present recharge rates. We conclude that groundwater ages should be reevaluated with 81Kr in regional aquifers where low 14C activities prevail. With an effective age range beyond one million years, this may enable the reconstruction of recharge history well into the Pleistocene and provide crucial information for the management of groundwater resources.

Original languageEnglish
Article number124946
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2020


  • C
  • Kr
  • Mixing
  • Nubian Sandstone Aquifer
  • Old groundwater dating
  • Sinai–Negev Basin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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