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Tracing groundwater discharge in a High Arctic lake using radon-222

Abstract

In the High Arctic, groundwater fluxes are limited by the presence of continuous permafrost, although it has been hypothesized that there may be localized groundwater flow and hydraulic connectivity beneath large lakes, due to the presence of taliks, or large regions of unfrozen ground. However, due to the logistical difficulty of employing seepage meters and piezometers in deep, ice-covered lakes, relatively little is known about groundwater discharge to polar lakes. One method of assessing groundwater discharge is through the use of geochemical tracers. We conducted a pilot study to quantify groundwater discharge into a High Arctic lake using dissolved radon gas as a geochemical tracer. Lake water was collected in 15 L polyvinyl chloride (PVC) bags with minimal atmospheric interaction from a 25-m deep lake near Shellabear Point, Melville Island, Northwest Territories, Canada. Sample bags were aerated through a closed water loop for 60 min to allow sufficient radon to equilibrate in a coupled air circuit. Radon in air concentrations were measured on a Durridge RAD7 portable alpha spectrometer. The field trial in a remote setting and separate tests with groundwater samples collected from a temperate site demonstrate the utility of the methodology. The limited results suggest that radon levels in the lower water column are elevated above background levels following nival melt in the surrounding watershed. Although these results are insufficient to quantify groundwater discharge, the results suggest subsurface flow may exist, and further study is warranted.

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Acknowledgments

This research would not have been possible without funding from the National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), excellent logistical support from the Polar Continental Shelf Program (PCSP), and field assistance from Kasey Kathan. Thank you to T. Kluge and A. Schmidt for providing descriptions of surficial geology for their study sites. This is PCSP contribution # 01116.

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Correspondence to Hilary A. Dugan.

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Dugan, H.A., Gleeson, T., Lamoureux, S.F. et al. Tracing groundwater discharge in a High Arctic lake using radon-222. Environ Earth Sci 66, 1385–1392 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12665-011-1348-6

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Keywords

  • Groundwater
  • Arctic lake
  • Hypersaline
  • Radon-222
  • Permafrost