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Multi-tracer (δ18O, δD, 3H, CFCs and SF6) investigation of groundwater recharge and apparent age at the Bamenda Highlands along the Cameroon volcanic line


The Bamenda Highlands contains numerous dilute and soda springs of unknown hydrological provenance. These dilute springs are a vital source of drinking water to the inhabitants. As a contribution to water management, this study investigated the spring water recharge, residence time and sub-surface circulation using δ18O, δD, 3H, CFCs, SF6 and TDS. A plot of both water types along the local meteoric water line indicated the meteoric origin and rapid recharge following precipitation. Dilute springs with a δ18O altitude effect of 0.27/100 m suggested recharge at different elevations. The CFC-12, CFC-11 and CFC-113 dating (complemented by 3H) showed reasonable young apparent ages of dilute springs ranging from 21 to > 52 (mean/median of 25) years and old soda springs (> 52 years). SF6 concentrations in dilute springs revealed exceptionally young ages relative to CFCs modelled ages suggesting a terrigenous enrichment of the former. Thus, groundwater dating with SF6 is unreliable in the area. Besides the old apparent ages of soda springs, their highly depleted δ18O and high TDS (mean of 1396 mg/l) indicated palaeo-recharge and high water–rock interaction, respectively. In contrast, the low TDS of dilute springs (< 140 mg/l) indicated low-water interaction. Most dilute springs showed exponential mixing models indicating heterogeneous recharge under unconfined aquifer conditions. Conversely, the old soda springs displayed piston flow and binary mixing models. The meteoric recharge and similar residence time of the shallow dilute springs suggested natural resilience to short-term changes in climatic conditions. Thus, low shallow groundwater abstraction is sustainable at the Bamenda Highlands.

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The paper constituted part of a PhD research of the corresponding author sponsored by the Japanese Government under the MEXT Scholarship. The Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) provided research materials under the Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development (SATREPS) project titled: Magmatic Fluid Supply into Lakes Nyos and Monoun, and Mitigation of Natural Disasters in Cameroon. The quality of the paper was remarkably improved by comments from two unknown reviewers.

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Correspondence to Mengnjo Jude Wirmvem.

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Wirmvem, M.J., Kamtchueng, B.T., Wotany, E.R. et al. Multi-tracer (δ18O, δD, 3H, CFCs and SF6) investigation of groundwater recharge and apparent age at the Bamenda Highlands along the Cameroon volcanic line. Sustain. Water Resour. Manag. 6, 2 (2020).

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  • Groundwater recharge
  • Groundwater age
  • Cfcs dating
  • Terrigenic SF6
  • Tritium
  • Cameroon volcanic line