Isotopic and hydrochemical studies of groundwater flow and salinity in the Southern Upper Rhine Graben - BRGM - Bureau de recherches géologiques et minières Access content directly
Journal Articles International Journal of Earth Sciences Year : 2005

Isotopic and hydrochemical studies of groundwater flow and salinity in the Southern Upper Rhine Graben


In order to determine the origin and the propagation mechanisms of highly concentrated chloride brines within the Quaternary aquifer system in the southern part of the Upper Rhine Graben, a combined isotope (H, O, C) and hydrochemical analysis was carried out. Groundwater recharge in this area is a complex system, consisting of local precipitation, river bank filtration, lateral flow from the Graben borders and, to a minor extent, an old Pleistocene component. In some areas, groundwater consists of up to 90% of recent bank filtrate, reaching depths down to at least 100 m. The isotopic and hydrochemical results show, that the elevated chloride concentrations in the Quaternary aquifer mainly result from leaky settling basins charged by the French potash mines until the mid 1970s. Input of natural brines coming from tertiary salt diapirs is of only minor importance. While infiltrating, the anthropogenic brines were strongly diluted by local river bank filtrate of the Rhine. Nevertheless, maximum chloride concentrations nowadays still reach some 10,000 mg/l at the base of the aquifer at a depth of more than 100 m below surface. The main volume of the brines is stored in the less permeable lower part of the quaternary sediments (Breisgau-Formation) whereas only a minor part is transported northwards with the rapid convective groundwater flow. Brines undergoing only dilution preserve their hydrochemical characteristics (NaCl-type). In contrast, brines recirculated from the Breisgau-Formation show a northwards increasing alteration through ion exchange processes. Potassium and sodium may be fixed in the fine grained aquifer material while calcium is set free into the groundwater. After a flow distance of about 12 km, complex hydraulic interactions between groundwater and surface waters lead to the rise of strongly diluted and hydrochemically altered brines with chloride contents up to maximum 700 mg/l. The presented case study is an example for a detailed analysis of a multi-component groundwater mixing system using combined isotope and hydrochemical methods. Furthermore, cation exchange is shown as a major process affecting the hydrochemical evolution of the young groundwater in the southern Upper Rhine Graben which is locally strongly polluted by chloride as a consequence of former potash mining


Earth Sciences
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Dates and versions

hal-03763574 , version 1 (29-08-2022)



Michael Bauer, Lorenz Eichinger, Philippe Elsass, Wolfram Kloppmann, Gunther Wirsing. Isotopic and hydrochemical studies of groundwater flow and salinity in the Southern Upper Rhine Graben. International Journal of Earth Sciences, 2005, 94 (4), pp.565-579. ⟨10.1007/s00531-005-0500-5⟩. ⟨hal-03763574⟩


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