Estimation of Groundwater Recharge and Discharge by Using the Tritium-Helium-3 Dating Technique

Closed for proposals

Project Type

Coordinated Research Project

Project Code




Approved Date

7 December 2009



Start Date

2 September 2010

Expected End Date

2 September 2015

Completed Date

10 September 2015


Groundwater is an important source for clean drinking water and vital to human and ecological health. Its importance will continue to rise with increasing population and associated demands by agriculture, industry and urban development. Proper resource management requires information on rates of groundwater recharge and discharge into rivers and lakes. Both types of information combined provide better estimates on groundwater turnover times and therefore on aquifer properties and water dynamics. A quantification of both recharge and discharge rates can be performed using environmental tracer techniques, mainly based on use of the 3H/3He technique at suitable locations using multilevel wells or piezometers, springs and river sites in discharge areas. A comparison of tracers and methodologies will be performed to assess best suited methods depending on prevailing hydrological settings. This site-specific information will be compared to other estimates and results of numerical groundwater flow models to upscale information to the basin scale.


The overall objective is the development and testing of 3H/3He methodologies to improve assessments of groundwater recharge and discharge rates through dating and direct assessment of groundwater turnover time via 3H/3He and associated tracers. The turnover time of a groundwater reservoir is directly related to volume and sustainable yield. The results will therefore contribute to sustainable management of groundwater resources and will be relevant to establishing hydrological baselines for evaluating land use and climate change effects. In addition, Member States’ capacity in use of environmental tracers for groundwater dating will be strengthened. These objectives will be met by conducting a number of field studies and through intensive use and interpretation of data by participating groups.

Specific objectives

Compare evaluated recharge and discharge estimates with conceptual models and validate methodology used with existing hydrological data and simplified groundwater flow and transport models

Evaluate the performance of different sampling techniques (diffusion samplers, copper tubes, membrane contactors) to provide guidelines for optimal use of the 3H/3He technique

Evaluate the usefulness of the 3H/3He isotope technique for estimating recharge rates of aquifers in different hydrogeological settings.

CRP Publications


Scientific Paper




"A Portable Membrane Contactor Sampler for Analysis of Noble Gases in Groundwater" in press in Ground Water / This paper describes details of the new sampling device developed in the IHL. This device was designed and tested to improve the sampling methodology for noble gas isotope analysis of ground water samples and will be utilized in this CRP for future sampling.



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