Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Well Aged Water

Million year old groundwater in Maryland water supply
A portion of the groundwater in the upper Patapsco aquifer underlying Maryland is over a million years old. A new study suggests that this ancient groundwater, a vital source of freshwater supplies for the region east of Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, was recharged over periods of time much greater than human timescales.
This new study from the USGS, the Maryland Geological Survey (MGS) and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) documents for the first time the occurrence of groundwater that is more than one million years old in a major water-supply aquifer along the Atlantic Coast. The oldest groundwater was found in the deepest parts of the aquifer, but groundwater even in shallower parts of the aquifer is tens to hundreds of thousands years old.

Groundwater age indicates the length of time that a sample of water has been in the ground since infiltrating from the land surface. This study reveals that modern pumping in southern Maryland west of the Chesapeake Bay and on the Eastern Shore is tapping groundwater resources that have accumulated in the aquifer over multiple cycles of climate change and are not quickly recharging.

The analysis shows that water flowed from the land surface into the deep aquifer during cooler periods in earth's history, when glaciers covered much of the northeastern U.S. and sea level was about 125 meters lower than it is today. During warmer periods in earth's history, such as in modern times, higher sea levels slow recharge of fresh water to the aquifer, due to a lower gradient between the recharge and discharge areas.
I've known that the aquifers we tap locally, the Aquaia and the Nanjemoy date to about 14,000 years old, which makes them old enough to have had Mammoths stomp around in the water when it was on the surface.  It makes sense that the Patapsco aquifer, the next layer down (much farther down, over 1,000 ft) would be much older. 

You know who could have played in this water?  Mammoth and Cave girls... 

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