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Geochemical evidence for efficient aquifer isolation over geological timeframes


Aquitards—layers of rock having low permeability—have been suggested as potential long-term reservoirs for toxic materials such as nuclear or chemical waste. But information about the isolation properties of aquitard layers is essential to evaluate whether they can indeed be used safely as reservoirs. Here we investigate the long-term mobility of groundwaters between two aquifers surrounding an aquitard layer in the eastern recharge area of the Paris basin, France, using helium isotopes as a geochemical tracer. The deeper Trias sandstone aquifer, which lies above the crystalline basement, accumulates radiogenic 4He and primordial 3He from large regions of the crust and mantle at rates comparable to the degassing of the whole crust1 and of mid-ocean ridges2. We show that the overlying carbonate Dogger aquifer, which is separated from the Trias aquifer by an aquitard layer consisting of a 600 m succession of shales and clays, is stagnant and has been extremely well isolated from the Trias over the past several million years. This finding, together with previous studies at the centre of the Paris basin3,4, shows that diffusive mass transfer across aquitards is negligible and that cross-formational flow in basins takes place preferentially in faulted areas.

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Figure 1: Schematic map of the eastern area of the Paris basin, France.
Figure 2: Evolution of 14C ages, 4He and 3He contents for Trias groundwaters (black dots) as a function of approximate distance from the recharge area.

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This study was supported by the French Nuclear Waste Agency (ANDRA) and by the Région Lorraine. We are grateful to all institutions and individuals who made sampling possible. Analytical support was provided by G. Sauder, P. Robert and L. Zimmermann. We appreciated comments from D. Hilton.

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Correspondence to Bernard Marty.

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Marty, B., Dewonck, S. & France-Lanord, C. Geochemical evidence for efficient aquifer isolation over geological timeframes. Nature 425, 55–58 (2003).

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