Publication record details

Title Baseline groundwater chemistry : the Sherwood Sandstone of Devon and Somerset
Ref no OR/11/060
Author Bearcock, J.M.; Smedley, P.L.
Year of publication 2012
Abstract This report describes the regional geochemistry of groundwater from the Sherwood Sandstone aquifer of Devon and Somerset. In order to assess the likely natural baseline chemistry of the groundwater in the area, information has been gathered from the strategic collection of 21 new groundwater samples, and from collation of existing groundwater, rainfall, mineralogical and geochemical data. The Sherwood Sandstone aquifer results from continental deposition during the early Triassic period. The deposition comprised thick clastic deposits in basins created during the late Permian. There are two distinct units: the Otter Sandstone Formation and the underlying Budleigh Salterton Pebble Beds Formation. These units form the most important aquifer in south-west England. The main chemical properties of the groundwater are determined by rainwater recharge reacting with the aquifer minerals. Of these minerals carbonates are the dominant influence on the water chemistry. While Ca is dominant in groundwaters from both aquifer units, the water types from the two units can be distinguished: the Otter Sandstone Formation aquifer has mainly Ca-HCO3 type waters, with some mixing towards Mg, and the groundwaters in the Budleigh Salterton Pebble Beds Formation aquifer are of Ca-HCO3 type to Na+K-Cl type. There is little variation in the major ion proportion of the groundwaters from the Otter Sandstone Formation, most likely as these represent groundwater in equilibrium with the minerals which give it this character. There is greater variation in the Budleigh Salterton Pebble Beds Formation groundwaters. Besides the difference in groundwater types, the groundwater from the Budleigh Salterton Pebble Beds Formation is more acidic, more oxic, has lower SEC values, and HCO3, Cr, U and Mg concentrations, and higher concentrations of Al, Be, Cd, Cr, Co, Tl and REE than the groundwater from the Otter Sandstone Formation. Human impacts on the water quality are evident. These are mainly visible in the presence of indicator contaminants, such as nitrate. The widespread presence and changes of nitrate concentrations over time indicate the extent to which the unconfined aquifer is influenced by modern farming practices or urban pollution. Concentrations of NO3-N exceeded the current drinking water limit of 11.3 mg L-1 in 25% of the sampled groundwaters, which probably reflects the intensification of agriculture in the study area over the last few decades. Indeed, the dominant land uses of the area are agriculture and grassland. However, recent legislation and the drive towards intelligent farming have meant that in some groundwaters the concentrations of nitrate are decreasing. While many of the groundwaters investigated in this study are of good inorganic quality there are some notable exceptions which contain elevated concentrations of Fe, SO4, Ni, Co and NO3. The distribution of the poor-quality is generally so sporadic that water quality would be difficult to predict prior to drilling a borehole. For many analytes, the 95th percentile of the distributions has been taken as a first approximation of an upper limit of baseline concentrations as this serves to eliminate the most extreme outlier concentrations that likely represent a distinct population.
Publisher British Geological Survey
Series Open Reports
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