Groundwater Evolution in an Arid Coastal Region of the Sultanate of Oman based on Geochemical and Isotopic Tracers

  • Constanze E. Weyhenmeyer
Part of the Water Science and Technology Library book series (WSTL, volume 40)


In arid and semi-arid regions, conventional hydrological investigations often fail to adequately describe groundwater systems due to a large spatial and temporal variability of hydrological parameters. Alternatively, this study from the Sultanate of Oman utilizes a combination of geochemical and isotopic tracers (O, H, C, Sr) for the identification of aquifer units, recharge areas, groundwater flow paths and residence times in a coastal alluvial aquifer of the Eastern Batinah region in Northern Oman. The hydrochemical investigation of groundwater samples from more than 200 wells and springs clearly indicates that the main recharge areas for the coastal alluvium are the adjacent Oman Mountains, rising up to 3000 m. Groundwater that infiltrates in the high-altitude regions circulates rapidly through the karstified mountains, indicated by close to modern-day tritium activity values measured in springs and wells along the foothills of the mountains. In the piedmont areas, groundwater from the high-altitude regions is diverted by a less permeable ophiolite complex into two geochemically and isotopically distinct corridors (plumes) that stretch through two gaps in the ophiolite across the 50 km wide coastal plain to the Gulf of Oman. Within these plumes the chemical and isotopic signature from the high-altitude regions remains virtually unchanged horizontally as well as vertically to depths exceeding 300 m (deepest wells), suggesting that additional infiltration on the coastal plain is insignificant. Mixing calculations based on strontium isotopes indicate that infiltration on the coastal plain itself accounts for less than 10 % of the total groundwater recharge in the plume areas, which is consistent with the lack of tritium in these groundwater samples. The remaining 90 % of groundwater in the plumes originate in the Jabal Akhdar mountains. In contrast, direct infiltration and recharge on the coastal plain itself is the only source for groundwater in areas adjacent to the two plumes (downstream of ophiolite areas) and in these areas the alluvial aquifer is hydro-chemically layered. Groundwater samples from shallow parts of the aquifer (<50 m) contain tritium indicating modern recharge, whereas groundwater in the deeper aquifer (> 200 m) is of late Pleistocene origin.


Groundwater Sample Groundwater Recharge Coastal Plain Alluvial Aquifer Frontal Mountain 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adar, E. M., and C. Leibundgut, Application of tracers in arid zone hydrology, IAHS Series of Proceedings and Reports, 232, 452 pp., IAHS Press, Wallingford, 1995.Google Scholar
  2. Bhatnagar, G. C., The hydrogeology of Wadi Samail upper catchment, Report, Ministry of Water Resources, Muscat, 1997.Google Scholar
  3. Bullen, T. D., Krabbenhoft, D. P. and C. Kendall, Kinetic and mineralogic controls on the evolution of groundwater chemistry and 87Sr / 86Sr in a sandy silicate aquifer, northern Wisconsin, USA, Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta, 60(10), 1807–1821, 1996.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Burns, S. J., and A. Matter, Geochemistry of carbonate cements in surficial alluvial conglomerates and their paleoclimatic implications, Sultanate of Oman, J. Sed. Res.,A65(1), 170–177, 1995.Google Scholar
  5. Calf, G. E., The isotope hydrology of the Mereenie Sandstone Aquifer, Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia, J. Hydrol., 38, 343–355, 1978.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cansult, Origin and age of groundwater in Oman - A study of environmental isotopes, Report PAWR 86-7, Public Authority for Water Resources, Muscat, 1986.Google Scholar
  7. Chandrasekharan, H., S. V. Navada, S. K. Jain, S. M. Rao, and Y. P. Singh, Studies on natural recharge to the groundwater by isotope techniques in arid western Rajasthan, India, in Estimation of Natural Groundwater Recharge, Series C(222), Mathematical and Physical Sciences, edited by I. Simmer, pp. 205–221, Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, 1988.Google Scholar
  8. Chinn, B. D., Davis, T. E., Hurst, R. W. and K. C. Leslie, Evaluation of seawater intrusion and mixing in the Dominguez Gap area, Los Angeles County, California, in Diversity in Engineering Geology and Groundwater Resources, AEG-GRA 1995 Annual Meeting, Association of Engineering Geologists, United States, 41 pp., 1995Google Scholar
  9. Clark, I. D., and P. E. Fritz, Environmental Isotopes in Hydrogeology?, CRC press LLC, New York, 311 pp., 1997.Google Scholar
  10. Coleman, M. L., T. J. Shepherd, J. J. Durham, J. E. Rouse, and G. R. Moore, Reduction of water with zinc for hydrogen isotope analysis, Anal Chem., 54, 993–995, 1982.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Collerson, K. D., Ullman, W. J. and T. Torgersen, 87Sr/86Sr ratios in the Great Artesian Basin, Australia, Geology, 16, 59–6, 1988.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cook, P. G., G. R. Walker, and I. D. Jolly, Spatial variability of groundwater recharge in a semiarid region, J. Hydrol., 111(1–4), 195–212, 1989.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dansgaard, W., Stable isotopes in precipitation, Tellus, 16(4), 436–468, 1964.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. DeBreuck, W., Hydrogeology of Salt Water Intrusion, International Contributions to Hydrogeology, A Selection of SWIM Papers, vol. 11, IAHS press, Wallingford, 1991.Google Scholar
  15. Edmunds, W. M., Characterization of groundwaters in semi-arid and arid zones using minor elements, in Groundwater Quality, edited by H. Nash, and G. J. McCall, pp. 19–30, Chapman & Hall, London, United Kingdom, 1995.Google Scholar
  16. Edmunds, W. M., and C. B. Gaye, Estimating the spatial variability of groundwater recharge in the Sahel using chloride, J. Hydrol., 156, 47–59, 1994.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Edmunds, W. M. and N. R. G. Walton, A geochemical and isotopic approach to recharge evaluation in semi-arid zones; past and present, in Arid-Zone Hydrology, Investigations with Isotope Techniques, edited by J. C. Fontes, pp. 47–68, Int. At. Energy Agency, Vienna, 1980.Google Scholar
  18. Epstein, S., and T. K. Mayeda, Variations of 180/160 ratio in natural waters, Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta, 4,213, 1953.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Faure, G. E. and J. L. E. Powell, Strontium Isotope Geology, Series: Minerals, Rocks and Inorganic Materials, Monograph Series of Theoretical and Experimental Studies 5, 188 pp., Springer Verlag, Berlin, 1972.Google Scholar
  20. Faure, G. E., Principles of Isotope Geology, 2nd edition, 589 pp., John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1986.Google Scholar
  21. Fontes, J. C., Andrews, J. N., Edmunds, W. M., Guerre, A. and Y. Travi, Paleorecharge by the Niger River (Mali) deduced from groundwater geochemistry, Water Resour. Res., 27(2), 199–214, 1991.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Froehlich, K., and Y. Yurtsever, Isotope techniques for water resources in arid and semiarid regions, in Application of Tracers in Arid Zone Hydrology, edited by E. M. Adar, and C. Leibundgut, pp. 3–12, IAHS press, Wallingford, 1995.Google Scholar
  23. Gibb, Sir A. and Partners, Water resources survey of northern Oman, Report, Ministry of Water Resources, Muscat, 1976.Google Scholar
  24. Glennie, K. W., M. G. A. Boeuf, M. W. Hughes Clarke, M. Moody-Stuart, W. F. H. Pilaar, and B. M. E. Reinhardt, Geology of the Oman Mountains. Verh. Kon. Ned. Geol. Minjnb. Gen., 1974.Google Scholar
  25. Gonfiantini, R., Standards for stable isotope measurements in natural compounds, Nature, 271, 534–536, 1978.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gonfiantini, R., Environmental isotopes in lake studies, in Handbook of Environmental Isotope Geochemistry, vol. 2, edited by P. Fritz, and J. C. Fontes, pp. 113–168, Elsevier, New York, 1986.Google Scholar
  27. Graf, C. G., The Hydrology of the Sultanate of Oman, Report, Public Authority for Water Resources, Muscat, 1983.Google Scholar
  28. Heathcote, J. A., Conceptual models for Eastern Batinah catchments, Report by Hydrotechnica Ltd., Ministry of Water Resources, Muscat, 1993.Google Scholar
  29. Howard, K. W. F., and E. Mullings, Hydrochemical Analysis of groundwater flow and saline intrusion in the Clarendon Basin, Jamaica, Groundwater, 34(5), 801–810, 1996.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Issar, A., Nativ, R., Karnieli, A. and J. R. Gat, Isotopic evidence of the origin of groundwater in arid zones, in Isotope Hydrology, pp. 85–104, International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, 1984.Google Scholar
  31. JGR, Special Issue on the Samail Ophiolite, J. Geophys. Res., 86(4), 2495–2782, 1981.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Johnson, T. M. and D. J. DePaolo, Interpretation of isotopic data in groundwater-rock systems; model development and application to Sr isotope data from Yucca Mountain, Water Resour. Res., 30(5), 1571–1587, 1994.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Katz, B. G. and T. D. Bullen, The combined use of 87Sr/86Sr and carbon and water isotopes to study the hydrochemical interaction between groundwater and lakewater in mantled karst, Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta, 60(24), 5075–5087, 1996.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lakey, R., P. Easton, and H. Al Hinai, Eastern Batinah Resource Assessment -Numerical Modeling, Report, Ministry of Water Resources, Muscat, 1995.Google Scholar
  35. Le Métour, J., J. C. Michel, F. Béchennec, J. P. Platel, J. E. and J. Roger, Geology and Mineral Wealth of the Sultanate of Oman, Directorate General of Minerals, Ministry of Petroleum and Minerals, Muscat, 1995.Google Scholar
  36. Lippard, S. J., A. W. Shelton, and I. E. Gass, The Ophiolite of Northern Oman, Memoir, 11, Geological Society London, 178 pp., 1986.Google Scholar
  37. Lyons, W. B., Tyler, S. W., Gaudette, H. E. and D. T. Long, The use of strontium isotopes in determining groundwater mixing and brine fingering in a playa spring zone, Lake Tyrrell, Australia, J. Hydrol., 167(1–4), 225–239, 1995.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. MacDonald, M. and Partners, Groundwater recharge schemes for the Barka - Rumais area, Report, Ministry of Water Resources, Muscat, 1989.Google Scholar
  39. Macumber, P. G., J. M. Niwas, A. Al Abadi, and R. Seneviratne, A new Isotopic Water Line for Northern Oman, Proceedings of ‘The Third Gulf Water Conference’, Muscat, 1997.Google Scholar
  40. McNutt, R. H., Frape, S. K., Fritz, P., Jones, M. G. and I. M. MacDonald, The 87Sr/86Sr values of Canadian Shield brines and fracture minerals with applications to groundwater mixing, fracture history, and geochronology, Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta, 54(1), 205–215, 1990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mann, A., S. S. Hanna, and S. C. Nolan, The post-Campanian tectonic evolution of the central Oman Mountains: Tertiary extension of the Eastern Arabian Region. Special Publication, 49, Geological Society, London, 1990.Google Scholar
  42. Moore, L. J., Moody, J. R., Barnes, I. L., Gramich, T. J., Murphy, T. J., Paulsen, P. J. and W. R. Shields, Trace determination of rubidium and strontium in silicate glass standard reference materials, Analytical Chem., 45, 2384–2387, 1973.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. MWR, Drilling completion report contract 92–21 Eastern Batinah, Report MWR-93-49, Ministry of Water Resources, Muscat, 1993.Google Scholar
  44. MWR, Water Quality Laboratory: Methods of Analyses, Report, Ministry of Water Resources, Muscat, 1997.Google Scholar
  45. Neumann, K. and S. Dreiss, Strontium87/strontium86 ratios as tracers in groundwater and surface waters in Mono Basin, California, Water Resour. Res., 31(12), 3183–3193,1995.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pearson, F. J. Jr., and W. V. Swarzenski, 14C Evidence for the Origin of Arid Region Groundwater, Northeastern Province, Kenya, in Isotope Techniques in Groundwater Hydrology Vol. II: Symposium Proceedings, International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, 95–109, 1974.Google Scholar
  47. Pedgely, D. E., Cyclones along the Arabian Coast. Weather, 24, 456–486, 1969.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Peters, Tj., A. Nicolas, and R. G. E. Coleman, Ophiolite Genesis and Evolution of the Oceanic Lithosphere, Series: Petrology and Structural Geology, vol. 5, 903 pp., Kuwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 1991.Google Scholar
  49. Rao, S. M., S. K. Jain, A. R. Navada, and K. Shivana, Isotopic studies on sea water intrusion and interrelationships between water bodies: some field examples, in Isotope Techniques in Water Resources Development, Proceedings of a Symposium, pp. 403–425, Int. At. Energy Agency, Vienna, 1987.Google Scholar
  50. Robertson, A. H. F., M. P. Searle, and A. C. E. Ries, The Geology and Tectonics of the Oman Region, Special Publication, 49, 845 pp.. Geological Society London, 1990.Google Scholar
  51. Schyfsma, E., Climate, in Quaternary Period in Saudi Arabia 1: Sedimentological, Hydrogeological, Hydrogeochemical, Geomorphological and Climatological Investigations in Central and Eastern Saudi Arabia, edited by S. S. Al-Sayari and J. G. Zotl, pp. 31–44, Springer Verlag, 1978.Google Scholar
  52. Sharma, M. L., and M. W. Hughes, Groundwater recharge estimation using chloride, deuterium and oxygen-18 profiles in the deep coastal sands of western Australia, J.Hydrol., 81, 93–109, 1985.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Simmers, I., Natural groundwater recharge estimation in (semi-)arid zones; some state-of-the-art observations, in Proceedings of the Sahel forum on the state-of-the-art of hydrology and hydrogeology in the arid and semi-arid areas of Africa, edited by G. E. Stout, and M. Demissie, pp. 373–386, 1990.Google Scholar
  54. Singh, D., Y. P. Singh, S. P. Bairwa, C. P. Porwal, and K. M. Mathur, Isotopic and hydrochemical study of groundwater in Shahgarh Bulge area of Jaisalmer. J. Appl. Hydrol., 9, 84–87, 1996.Google Scholar
  55. Stanger, G., The Hydrogeology of the Oman Mountains, Ph.D. Thesis, Open University, U.K, 1986.Google Scholar
  56. Sukhija, B., D. Reddy, and I. Vasanthakumar-Reddy, Droughts as means of delineation of areas prone to seawater intrusion, in International Workshop on Appropriate Methodologies for Development and Management of Groundwater Resources in Developing Countries, New Delhi, pp. 733–741, Oxford and IBH Publishing Company, 1989.Google Scholar
  57. Sukhija, B. S., P. Nagabhushanam, and D. V. Reddy, Groundwater recharge in semi- arid regions of India; an overview of results obtained using tracers. Hydrogeol. J., 4(3), 50–71, 1996.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Surfer 7.0, Software for Contouring and 3D Surface Mapping for Scientists and Engineers, Golden Software Inc., Colorado, 1991.Google Scholar
  59. Taylor, D., P. D. Jones, and T. M. L. Wigley, Rainfall in Oman: Data Acquisition, Statistics and Climatology, Report, Ministry of Water Resources, Muscat, 1990.Google Scholar
  60. Tetratech, International Inc., Evaluation of alternative groundwater development schemes for the Wadi Samail Aquifer, Report, Ministry of Water Resources, Muscat, 1980.Google Scholar
  61. Tomlinson, R.H. and A. K. Das Gupta, The use of isotope dilution in determination of geologic age of minerals, Can. J. Chem., 31, 909–914, 1953.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Weyhenmeyer, C. E., S. J. Burns, H. N. Waber, W. Aeschbach-Hertig, R. Kipfer, H. H. Loosli, and A. Matter, Cool glacial temperatures and changes in moisture source recorded in Oman groundwaters, Science, 287, 842–845, 2000.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Weyhenmeyer, C. E., Burns, S. J., Waber, H. N., and A. Matter, Isotope study of moisture sources, recharge areas and groundwater flow paths within the Eastern Batinah Coastal Plain, Sultanate of Oman, Water Resour. Res., in press.Google Scholar
  64. Weyhenmeyer, C. E., Waber, H. N., Burns, S. J., Kramers, J. and A. Matter, Strontium isotopes (87Sr/86Sr) as a tracer for groundwater movement and mixing in a coastal alluvial aquifer of Northern Oman, submitted Google Scholar
  65. Weyhenmeyer, C. E., Origin and evolution of groundwater in the alluvial aquifer of the Eastern Batinah coastal plain, Sultanate of Oman - A hydrogeochemical approach, Ph.D. thesis, Geological Inst, Univ. of Bern, Switzerland, 2000.Google Scholar
  66. Young, M. E., R. G. M. De Bruijn, and A. S. Al-Ismaily, Exploration of an alluvial aquifer in Oman by time-domain electromagnetic sounding. Hydrogeol. J., 6, 383–393, 1998.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Constanze E. Weyhenmeyer
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of GeologyUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations