Seasonal and spatial variations in rare earth elements to identify inter-aquifer linkages and recharge processes in an Australian catchment

C. Duvert, D.I. Cendón, M. Raiber, J.-L. Seidel, Malcolm Cox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


With the aim of elucidating the seasonal behaviour of rare earth elements (REEs), surface and groundwaters were collected under dry and wet conditions in different hydrological units of the Teviot Brook catchment (Southeast Queensland, Australia). Sampled waters showed a large degree of variability in both REE abundance and normalised patterns. Overall REE abundance ranged over nearly three orders of magnitude, and was consistently lower in the sedimentary bedrock aquifer (18ppt<∑REE<477ppt) than in the other hydrological systems studied. Abundance was greater in springs draining rhyolitic rocks (∑REE=300 and 2054ppt) than in springs draining basalt ranges (∑REE=25 and 83ppt), yet was highly variable in the shallow alluvial groundwater (16ppt<∑REE<5294ppt) and, to a lesser extent, in streamwater (85ppt<∑REE<2198ppt). Generally, waters that interacted with different rock types had different REE patterns. In order to obtain an unbiased characterisation of REE patterns, the ratios between light and middle REEs (R(M/L)) and the ratios between middle and heavy REEs (R(H/M)) were calculated for each sample. The sedimentary bedrock aquifer waters had highly evolved patterns depleted in light REEs and enriched in middle and heavy REEs (0.17<R(M/L)<1.00 and -0.16<R(H/M)<0.93), whereas the springs draining intrusive and extrusive rocks had relatively flat patterns (0.20<R(M/L)<0.38 and -0.16<R(H/M)<0.09). Surface waters were generally enriched in middle REEs (median R(M/L)=0.35 and median R(H/M)=-0.04), and waters from the shallow alluvial aquifer had very diverse patterns with important spatial variations. Samples collected from the alluvium exhibited an increasing influence of the sedimentary bedrock from upgradient to downgradient; typically they showed flat patterns in the upstream section of the alluvium (median R(M/L)=0.21 and median R(H/M)=-0.06) gradually evolving towards patterns depleted in light REEs and enriched in middle and heavy REEs downgradient (median R(M/L)=0.48 and median R(H/M)=0.38). To document the seasonal variations in REE patterns, the difference in ratios between dry and wet sampling campaigns was determined for each repeated sampling location. Contributions from the sedimentary bedrock water to the alluvium during the wet season were identified at two locations (increase from R(H/M)=0.03 and 0.35 to R(H/M)=0.62 and 0.89). The effect of recharge through fractured igneous rocks was also observed in two boreholes intercepting the sedimentary bedrock, where the freshly recharged waters likely contributed to the deeper groundwater flow during the wet season (decrease from R(M/L)=0.81 and 0.56 to R(M/L)=0.46 and 0.17). Results from this study suggest that REEs may be usefully applied as indicators of recharge processes and inter-aquifer mixing. They also underline the importance of conducting seasonal sampling campaigns to capture possible short-term variations in REE patterns and abundance, which is essential to enable a better understanding of hydrological and hydrochemical processes in complex geological settings. 
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-97
Number of pages15
JournalChemical Geology
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015
Externally publishedYes


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