Paleowaters in Silurian-Devonian carbonate aquifers: Geochemical evolution of groundwater in the Great Lakes region since the Late Pleistocene

J. C. McIntosh, L. M. Walter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Changes in the climatic conditions during the Late Quaternary and Holocene greatly impacted the hydrology and geochemical evolution of groundwaters in the Great Lakes region. Increased hydraulic gradients from melting of kilometer-thick Pleistocene ice sheets reorganized regional-scale groundwater flow in Paleozoic aquifers in underlying intracratonic basins. Here, we present new elemental and isotopic analyses of 134 groundwaters from Silurian-Devonian carbonate and overlying glacial drift aquifers, along the margins of the Illinois and Michigan basins, to evaluate the paleohydrology, age distribution, and geochemical evolution of confined aquifer systems. This study significantly extends the spatial coverage of previously published groundwaters in carbonate and drift aquifers across the Midcontinent region, and extends into deeper portions of the Illinois and Michigan basins, focused on the freshwater-saline water mixing zones. In addition, the hydrogeochemical data from Silurian-Devonian aquifers were integrated with deeper basinal fluids, and brines in Upper Devonian black shales and underlying Cambrian-Ordovician aquifers to reveal a regionally extensive recharge system of Pleistocene-age waters in glaciated sedimentary basins. Elemental and isotope geochemistry of confined groundwaters in Silurian-Devonian carbonate and glacial drift aquifers show that they have been extensively altered by incongruent dissolution of carbonate minerals, dissolution of halite and anhydrite, cation exchange, microbial processes, and mixing with basinal brines. Carbon isotope values of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) range from -10 to -2‰, 87Sr/86Sr ratios range from 0.7080 to 0.7090, and δ 34 S s(-) SO4 values range from +10 to 30‰. A few waters have elevated δ13CDIC values (>15‰) from microbial methanogenesis in adjacent organic-rich Upper Devonian shales. Radiocarbon ages and δ18O and δD values of confined groundwaters indicate they originated as subglacial recharge beneath the Laurentide Ice Sheet (14-50 ka BP, -15 to -13‰ δ18O). These paleowaters are isolated from shallow flow systems in overlying glacial drift aquifers by lake-bed clays and/or shales. The presence of isotopically depleted waters in Paleozoic aquifers at relatively shallow depths illustrates the importance of continental glaciation on regional-scale groundwater flow. Modern groundwater flow in the Great Lakes region is primarily restricted to shallow unconfined glacial drift aquifers. Recharge waters in Silurian-Devonian and unconfined drift aquifers have δ18O values within the range of Holocene precipitation: -11 to -8‰ and -7 to -4.5‰ for northern Michigan and northern Indiana/Ohio, respectively. Carbon and Sr isotope systematics indicate shallow groundwaters evolved through congruent dissolution of carbonate minerals under open and closed system conditions (δ13CDIC = -14.7 to-11.1‰ and 87Sr/86Sr = 0.7080-0.7103). The distinct elemental and isotope geochemistry of Pleistocene- versus Holocene-age waters further confirms that surficial flow systems are out of contact with the deeper basinal-scale flow systems. These results provide improved understanding of the effects of past climate change on groundwater flow and geochemical processes, which are important for determining the sustainability of present-day water resources and stability of saline fluids in sedimentary basins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2454-2479
Number of pages26
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 15 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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