Salinisation source(s) and mechanism(s) in shallow alluvial aquifers along the Buffels River, Northern Cape Province, South Africa

Nakwafila, Albertina Nuusiku (2015-04)

Thesis (MSc)--Stellenbosch University, 2015.


ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Several areas in Namaqualand are affected by elevated levels of salinity; including the shallow alluvial aquifers along the Buffels River catchment. The chemistry of rainwater that recharges these aquifers has low salt-loads, but the groundwater system is very saline. The shallow alluvial aquifers are an important source of water for several communal areas along the river both for domestic and agricultural purposes. Groundwater is also used for the copper and diamond mining activities along the river. Prior to this study, the sources of salinity to the alluvial aquifers and whether salinity can be remediated has not been determined. Possible salinity sources included seawater intrusion, evaporitic salts dissolution, concentrations by evaporation, deep aquifer brines, dissolution of minerals from the aquifer geology as well as salts from anthropogenic activities (i.e. mining). The source(s) of salinity to the groundwater has been determined using the geochemical as well as the isotopic tracers. The ratios of major ions (i.e. Na/Cl) as well the oxygen (18O), hydrogen (2H), 36Cl/Cl, and 87Sr/86Sr isotopes were used in determining the possible solute sources. In addition to these, the chloride mass balance (CMB) method was used to determine the recharge rates to the alluvial aquifers. Furthermore, the groundwater age of the alluvial aquifers was determined using the tritium (3H) isotope. The groundwater samples have high 87Sr/86Sr ratios, which are in the same ranges as the 87Sr/86Sr ratios in the surrounding granitic rocks indicating water-rock interactions. The 36Cl/Cl ratios are low and indicate the dissolution of old salts. The 18O and 2H stable isotopes of groundwater show an evaporative trend with respect to the LMWL, which indicate that groundwater has been evaporated before or during infiltration. Salinity to the shallow alluvial aquifers was found to be mainly derived from the dissolution of rock mass and concentration by evaporation process. The groundwater is relatively young, but there is mixing between old water recharged prior to bomb testing and recently recharged groundwater in some boreholes. The Chloride mass balance (CMB) method assumes atmospheric chloride is the only source of chloride to the aquifers. However, there is additional chloride to these alluvial aquifers from rock mass dissolution. The estimated recharge rates by CMB method (0.1-3.4mm/a) are therefore underestimated. A simulation model was used to determine the recharge rates based on the annual precipitation that will yield the current measured chloride concentrations in the groundwater. Recharge was found to range from 1-5% of the annual precipitation, which is also low. The CMB method therefore gives significant recharge rate estimates, but they are not accurate and need to be supported by another method.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Geen opsomming beskikbaar.

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