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Hydrochemistry and environmental isotopes of spring water and their relation to structure and lithology identified with remote sensing methods in Wadi Araba, Egypt

Wannous, Manal; Theilen-Willige, Barbara; Tröger, Uwe; Falk, Marianne; Siebert, Christian; Bauer, Florian

Springs located at the historical sites of Wadi Araba (Eastern Desert of Egypt) and emerging from the escarpments of the Northern and Southern Galala Plateaus were investigated. A combination of methods, including hydrochemistry, stable and radioisotope composition, and structural analyses based on satellite data, provided information about the structure of the subsurface and the derived groundwater flow paths. Satellite images reveal karst features within the northern plateau, e.g. conical landforms. Karstic caves were documented along both escarpments. Chemical analysis of floodwater from Wadi Araba indicates higher concentrations of terrestrial salts compared to floodwaters from central and southern parts of the desert. δ 18 O and δ 2 H signatures in spring waters resemble those of floodwater and fall on the global meteoric water line, confirming their fast infiltration with minor influence of evaporation. The aquifer feeding the springs of the Northern Galala Plateau has low retention and the springs dry out quickly, even after heavy rainfall. Contrastingly, 3 H activities in springs emerging from the Southern Galala Plateau refer to much slower subsurface passage. With respect to 3 H content (3.8 TU) in recent flood waters, the spring water at Southern Galala Plateau contains about 40% recently recharged groundwater. However, its largest spring—the St. Antony spring—discharges water with a radiocarbon age of about 15,000 years. In combination with this spring’s constant and high discharge over a period of several months, that age estimate suggests a large reservoir with moderate to high retention.
Published in: Hydrogeology Journal, 10.1007/s10040-021-02343-x, Springer Nature