Earth Institute Research Projects

Collaborative Research: Quantifying Past Water Table Depth and Hydroclimate with Dissolved Noble Gas

Lead PI: Dr. Martin Stute

Unit Affiliation: Geochemistry, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

July 2017 - June 2020
North America ; United States
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: Water resources are a critical issue for agriculture in the arid parts of the US, and it is likely that water availability will be affected by future climate change, yet it remains difficult to predict the magnitude of future rainfall changes. The proposed research will develop a new and precise method for quantifying past changes in water table depth, using measurements of dissolved noble gas isotopes in ancient groundwater. This knowledge of past water table fluctuations will help illuminate the regional rainfall response to climate variations, and strengthen predictions by providing rigorous tests of rainfall models. The method is based on the demonstrated fact that heavy gases settle to the bottom of the stagnant column of air in the soil above the water table depth. The deeper the water table, the more extreme the enrichment of heavy isotopes, and these heavy isotopes become dissolved in the water thus preserving information about the water table depth in aquifers containing ancient groundwater. This groundwater is already routinely sampled to learn about past temperature from the abundance of the noble gases; the proposed research will add water table depth to the information that can be extracted from the samples.