One example is a recent pilot project to measure the concentration of radon gas in river water as a more effective way to understand interactions between groundwater and surface water. Often times these two resources are strongly interconnected and the quality and quantity of one directly affects the other.
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Knowing where these exchanges occur, and how much water is being exchanged, can help significantly in managing the quality of our fresh water bodies. Radon is a soluble colourless, gaseous, unstable isotope produced by the decay of radium. It has a half-life of 3.
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Radon is abundant in groundwater but has almost negligible concentrations in surface water due to rapid radon loss to the atmosphere through degassing. This contrast in radon concentrations between groundwater and surface water enables radon to be an ideal tracer to measure groundwater-surface water interaction. Surface waters that have elevated concentrations of radon indicate a location where groundwater is discharging into the surface water.
In a Hutt River study, we sampled river water at m intervals over a 16kms reach. We then measured the alpha particle radiation in the sample, which relates directly to radon concentration. This method enabled us to identify where groundwater is discharging into the river as well as where river water may be recharging into the aquifer system. Recently, a higher sensitivity radon measurement procedure has been developed at GNS Science allowing us to identify the radon concentration of surface waters with very little radon and with higher accuracy.
The entire reach of the Mangatainoka River, approximately 70 km long, was also surveyed over a two day period using radon. Radon identified the locations of groundwater discharge and recharge. The results of this study will aid in the development of nutrient flow models being developed for the area. Radon sampling and analysis is a rapid, cost-effective method for screening long river reaches to identify local groundwater inflows.
The liquid scintillation method used in these pilot studies has the advantage over other methods of being able to measure large numbers of samples at once. In addition, this method provides another tool to study the transport of nutrients from farms to streams and rivers. Excess nitrogen cascades through the environment, and enters ground and surface water as nitrate.
Nitrate contaminates groundwater resources, and causes eutrophication in streams, lakes and estuaries. Once NO 3 is formed, de-nitrification and other biogeochemical processes affect isotope ratios, allowing the fate of NO 3 to be tracked.
Our science is working toward identifying successful mitigation of nitrate contaminants, improving the nitrogen efficiency of New Zealand agriculture. This contrast in radon concentrations between groundwaters and surface waters enables radon to be an ideal tracer to measure groundwater-surface water interaction. Surface waters which have elevated concentrations of radon indicate a location where groundwater is discharging into the surface water. Radon sampling and analysis is a rapid, cost-effective method for screening long river reaches to identify local groundwater inflows.
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Introduction to Water Dating and Tracer Analysis. Prices and Analytical Methods. How to Submit Radon Samples We send bottles to you, free of charge.