Using terrigenic 4He to identify and quantify regional groundwater discharge to streams

W. Payton Gardner, Glenn A. Harrington, D. Kip Solomon, Peter G. Cook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


We present a new technique for identifying and quantifying the discharge of long residence time, regional groundwater to rivers using naturally occurring tracers measured within the river. Terrigenic 4He and 222Rn, synoptically sampled along a 100 km reach in the Fitzroy River in northern Western Australia, are used to identify areas of groundwater inflow to the river and to distinguish shallow, local and deep, regional groundwater. Models of tracer transport in the river can be numerically optimized to calculate total groundwater discharge and to separate regional and local discharge fractions. Discharge of regional groundwater composes close to 15% of the total groundwater discharge along the entire reach, varying spatially along the reach from 0% to 100% of total groundwater discharge. This method should be applicable in river systems where groundwater with elevated terrigenic helium could be discharging to the river. The ability to separate locally from regionally derived groundwater discharge has significant implications for calculating catchment water budgets, for predicting catchment response to changes in precipitation, and for sustainable management of the catchment.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberW06523
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2011


Dive into the research topics of 'Using terrigenic 4He to identify and quantify regional groundwater discharge to streams'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this