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Rethinking groundwater age

It is commonly thought that old groundwater cannot be pumped sustainably, and that recently recharged groundwater is inherently sustainable. We argue that both old and young groundwaters can be used in physically sustainable or unsustainable ways.

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Fig. 1: Flow of water and distribution of ages in a groundwater system in an arid region.


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This research was supported by a Global Water Futures grant to G.F. and J.C.M. and an NSERC Discovery Grant to G.F. J.C.M acknowledges funding received as a Fellow of the CIFAR Earth4D Subsurface Science and Exploration Program. M.O.C. acknowledges support under an Independent Research Fellowship from the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC; NE/P017819/1). This commentary benefitted from discussions with P. Döll, J. Famiglietti, G. Fogg, X. Huggins, A. Manning, K. Markovich and M. Rohde.

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Correspondence to Grant Ferguson.

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Ferguson, G., Cuthbert, M.O., Befus, K. et al. Rethinking groundwater age. Nat. Geosci. 13, 592–594 (2020).

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