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The contribution of groundwater discharge to the overall water budget of Boreal lakes in Alberta/Canada estimated from a radon mass balance

Author(s): A. Schmidt | J. J. Gibson | I. R. Santos | M. Schubert | K. Tattrie

Journal: Hydrology and Earth System Sciences Discussions
ISSN 1812-2108

Volume: 6;
Issue: 4;
Start page: 4989;
Date: 2009;
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Radon-222, a naturally-occurring radioisotope with a half-life of 3.8 days, was used to estimate groundwater discharge to small lakes in wetland-rich basins in the vicinity of Fort McMurray, Alberta, a region under significant water development pressures including both oil sands mining and in situ extraction. A program of field investigations was carried out in March and July 2008 using a Durridge RAD-7® and RAD Aqua® to measure radon-222 activity distributions in dissolved gas in the water column of two lakes as a tracer of groundwater discharge in the timeframe of 4 half-lives (15 days). Radon activity concentrations in lakes was found to range from 0.5 to 72 Bq/m3, compared to radon activity concentrations in groundwaters, measured using a RAD H2O, in the range of 2000–8000 Bq/m3. Radon mass balance, used in comparison with stable isotope mass balance, suggested that the two lakes under investigation had quite different proportions of annual groundwater inflow, one being close to 0.5% of annual inflow and the other about 14%, with lower values in the former attributed to a larger drainage area/lake area ratio which promotes greater surface connectivity. Interannual variability in groundwater proportions is expected despite constancy of groundwater discharge rates due to observed variability in annual surface runoff. Combination of stable isotope and radon mass balance approaches provides information on flowpath partitioning that is useful for evaluating surface-groundwater connectivity and acid sensitivity of individual water bodies of interest in the Alberta Oil Sands Region.
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