Investigating the enigma of an irregular groundwater age pattern in a confined, presumed “fossil” complex aquifer through mixing cell flow modeling

Betzabe Atencio, Roi Ram, Avihu Burg, Reika Yokochi, Yoseph Yechieli, Roland Purtschert, Zheng Tian Lu, Wei Jiang, Zeev Ronen, Eilon M. Adar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Significant fluctuations in the groundwater (GW) age along the eastern flow path of the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer's (NSA), as derived from Krypton-81 groundwater dating, have suggested that this aquifer, located in Israel's Negev Desert and previously presumed to be a fossil, is not entirely isolated but mixes with younger and even recent water. The intermittent rejuvenation and drastic increases in the GW age across short distances most likely imply hydraulic connectivity with the surrounding aquifers, which contribute both younger and more ancient water to the NSA. The current study aims at modeling the GW flow system to locate and quantify its water sources despite the aquifer's hydrogeological complexity and the scarcity of hydrological data. We implemented the Mixing Cell Modeling (MCM) approach, understanding that the alternating rejuvenations and increases in the GW age downstream of the NSA's eastern flow trajectory reflect the mixing of the NSA's groundwater with young and old GW bodies, respectively. Thus, prompted by the 81Kr water age distribution, yet independent of the Kr radioisotope data, a multi-tracer mixing cell flow model was adopted based on a set of balance equations of water, dissolved minerals, and stable environmental isotopes. The findings indicate that (1) there is a small, yet substantial, intrusion of old brackish GW from a deep-seated, highly pressurized aquifer into the NSA in the northeastern Negev; (2) the rejuvenation of GW in the NSA is due to significant mixing with water from nearby overlying carbonate and chert aquifers, and (3) the NSA is substantially replenished through the Nubian Sandstone (NS) outcrops along the Negev Desert anticlines. Most GW intrusions into the NSA occur near the intersections of the eastern flow path with some of the Negev's major faults and synclines, such as the Paran and Ramon Fault zones and the Zin Syncline. In light of the relatively young GW age at the end of the NSA's western flow path in the northern Negev, and based on the similarities in the hydrogeological structures in the Negev and northern Sinai Deserts, we propose that similar mixing processes with GW from the overlying carbonate aquifers and direct GW recharge through the NS outcrops also occur in the northern Sinai Peninsula. The approach presented in this study might apply to examining recharge processes and hydraulic connectivity in other aquifers that were formerly classified as “fossil,” such as the immense NSA found in the Arabian (Jordan & Saudi Arabia) and the Western (Egypt) Deserts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number130631
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2024


  • Complex aquifer
  • Kr-81 groundwater age
  • Mixing Cell Modeling
  • Nubian Sandstone Aquifer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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