Characterizing a Sewage Plume Using the 3H-3He Dating Technique

Stephanie Dunkle Shapiro, Denis LeBlanc, Peter Schlosser, Andrea Ludin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


An extensive 3H-3He study was performed to determine detailed characteristics of a regional flow system and a sewage plume over a distance of 4 km in a sand and gravel aquifer at Otis Air Base in Falmouth, Massachusetts. 3H-3He ages increase with depth in individual piezometer clusters and with distance along flowpaths. However, the age gradient with depth (Δt/Δz) is smaller in the plume than that in the regional waters, due to the intense recharge in the infiltration beds. The 1960s bomb peak of tritium in precipitation is archived longitudinally along a flowline through the main axis of the plume and vertically in individual piezometer clusters. On the eastern side of the sampling area, where water from Ashumet Pond forces plume water deeper into the flow system, 3H-3He ages are young at depth because the 3H-3He "clock" is reset due to outgassing of helium in the pond. A reconstruction of the tritium input functions for the regional and plume samples shows that there is no offset in the peak [3H]+[3Hetrit] concentrations for the plume and regional water, indicating that the water from supply wells for use on the base is young. The 3H-3He ages and detergent concentrations in individual wells are consistent with the beginning of use of detergents and the time period when their concentrations in sewage would have been greatest. Ages and hydraulic properties calculated using the 3H-3He data compare well with those from previous investigations and from particle-tracking simulations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)861-878
Number of pages18
JournalGround Water
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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