A paleotemperature record derived from dissolved noble gases in groundwater of the Aquia aquifer (Maryland, USA)

Werner Aeschbach-Hertig, Martin Stute, Jordan F. Clark, Robert F. Reuter, Peter Schlosser

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106 Scopus citations


Low 14C activities in groundwater of the confined part of the Aquia aquifer in southeastern Maryland suggest that most of this water infiltrated at least 30,000 years ago. However, radiocarbon contents of the dissolved inorganic carbon seem to be affected by isotopic exchange, possibly with secondary calcite deposits in the formation, leading to overestimated 14C ages. Whereas the geochemistry of the Aquia aquifer complicates the application of the widely used 14 C dating method, the accumulation of radiogenic He seems to provide a viable alternative for establishing a chronology. The quasi-linear increase of He concentrations with flow distance observed in the Aquia aquifer can be explained entirely by accumulation of in situ produced radiogenic He. U and Th concentrations in Aquia sand were measured in order to determine the accumulation rate of 4He with sufficient confidence to establish a He time scale. Concentrations of dissolved atmospheric noble gases were used to derive mean annual ground temperatures at the time of infiltration. These noble gas temperatures (NGTs) clearly show the presence of water that infiltrated under much cooler conditions than at present. NGTs are correlated with chloride concentrations, corroborating the hypothesis that chloride variations in this aquifer constitute a climate signal. In contrast, the stable isotope ratios δ18O and δD do not provide a clear record of past climatic changes in the Aquia aquifer and the correlation between NGTs and stable isotope ratios is weak. The NGT record suggests that mean annual temperatures in this midlatitude coastal site during the last glacial maximum (LGM) were (9.0 ± 0.6) °C colder than during the Holocene. This difference is slightly lower than estimates derived from pollen data for this region, but considerably larger than the rather uniform cooling of about 5°C indicated by noble gas studies in more southern locations of North America. The larger cooling is ascribed to the influence of the Laurentide ice sheet, which at its maximum extension came as close as 250 km to our study site.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)797-817
Number of pages21
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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