Integrating geochemical investigations and geospatial assessment to understand the evolutionary process of hydrochemistry and groundwater quality in arid areas

  • Mohamed El Alfy
  • Talal Alharbi
  • Basma Mansour


Groundwater is the key for life in arid areas. Aquifer overexploitation and climatic conditions can significantly deteriorate groundwater quality. The Al-Qassim area in central Saudi Arabia is characterized by dense agricultural use and is irrigated mainly by fossil groundwater from the Saq Aquifer. Understanding the area’s hydrochemistry, major factors governing groundwater quality, and alternative uses of the groundwater are the main goals of this study. Groundwater samples were collected and examined for major, minor, and trace elements. Ionic relationships, hydrochemical facies, geospatial distributions, and multivariate analyses were conducted to assess the hydrochemical processes at play. The salinity and nitrate concentrations of the Saq Aquifer’s groundwater were found to increase in the outcrop areas more than the confined areas. The spatial distributions were fragmented by three main factors: (i) modern recharge by relatively brackish water, (ii) irrigation return flow in intensive farming areas, and (iii) overexploitation and draining of deep and relatively saline zones of the aquifer. Seven water types were found representing the alkaline water with a predominance of sulfate–chloride ions and earth alkaline water with a predominance of sulfate and chloride. Mixing between fresh and brackish water, dissolution of mineral phases, silicate weathering, and reverse ion exchange were recognized as the evolutionary processes, while evaporation played a minor role. Cluster analyses characterized the fresh groundwater zone, modern groundwater recharge zone, and anthropogenic influence zone. In the confined areas, nearly all the groundwater was appropriate for domestic use and irrigation. In the outcrop areas, some limitations were found due to unsuitable conditions.


Hydrochemistry Groundwater quality Water supply Saq Aquifer Saudi Arabia 



The authors wish to express their gratitude to the editor, associate editor, and the reviewers for their valuable comments.

Funding information

This study was financially supported by the King Saud University, Vice Deanship of Research chairs, PSIPW Chair.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mohamed El Alfy
    • 1
    • 2
  • Talal Alharbi
    • 3
  • Basma Mansour
    • 4
  1. 1.PSIPW Chair, Prince Sultan Institute for Environmental, Water and Desert ResearchKing Saud UniversityRiyadhSaudi Arabia
  2. 2.Geology Department, Faculty of ScienceMansoura UniversityMansouraEgypt
  3. 3.Geology Department, Faculty of ScienceKing Saud UniversityRiyadhSaudi Arabia
  4. 4.Geology Department, Faculty of ScienceSuez Canal UniversityIsmailiaEgypt

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