University of Calgary student Jessica Ellis collects a sample of fossil groundwater in northeastern Alberta in an Oct., 2016 handout photo. Research led by a University of Calgary geologist suggests water that has been stored underground for thousands of years is not immune to modern-day contamination. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-University of Calgary-Scott Jasechko MANDATORY CREDIT

Ancient wells not immune to pollution: study

It’s possible for ancient and recent water sources to mingle deep underground

CALGARY — New research suggests ancient underground water sources long believed to be shielded from modern-day contaminants may not be as safe as previously thought.

The study, led by University of Calgary hydrogeologist Scott Jasechko, involved delving into data collected from 6,000 groundwater wells around the world.

The paper was published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The research yielded two interesting findings — up to 85 per cent of the fresh, unfrozen water in the upper kilometre of the earth’s crust is more than 12,000 years old and it’s possible for ancient and recent water sources to mingle deep underground.

“The implication of that finding is that, unfortunately, even deep wells are vulnerable to modern land uses,” said Jasechko.

The scientists got clues from what might seem an unlikely source — hydrogen bomb tests from the 1950s and 1960s.

The tests released a specific radioactive hydrogen isotope into the environment called tritium, which has been useful in dating water samples. Trace levels of tritium — too low to pose any danger — were found in deep groundwater wells, demonstrating there is a way for old and new water to mix.

“Its presence alone indicates that some of the water in the well is recent rain and snow,” said Jasechko. ”And the fact that we find that at deep depths implies that even deep wells are vulnerable to modern-era contaminants.”

Grant Ferguson, an associate professor in geological engineering at the University of Saskatchewan, said he was taken aback by how widespread the potential for contamination was.

“We know that there’s a mechanism for water to get from the surface to these deep water supplies. They’re not as protected. The barrier’s not there like we thought it was,” said Ferguson, who contributed to the research.

“It makes us question some of the working assumptions we’ve had for groundwater protection.”

Billions of people around the world rely on groundwater stored beneath the earth’s surface in pockets within soil and rock.

“Groundwater is a precious resource and it already supplies about one-third of the water we use as humans on this planet for growing food, for drinking, for industry,” said Jasechko.

“We should consider, not only the amount of water we have on the planet, but also its quality and susceptibility to contamination.

“We need to protect it and conserve it for future generations.”

Just Posted

Canadians told to brace for a ‘classic’ Canadian winter with lots of snow

TORONTO — One of Canada’s high profile weather forecasters is warning Canadians… Continue reading

Nebraska set to vote today on fate of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline

CALGARY — Five commissioners in Nebraska are set to vote today on… Continue reading

Hippie cult leader Charles Manson dead at 83

LOS ANGELES — Charles Manson, the hippie cult leader who became the… Continue reading

Tie new affordable housing money to outcomes, former watchdog tells Liberals

OTTAWA — Parliament’s first budget watchdog is warning the federal government to… Continue reading

WATCH: Christmas Wish Breakfast toy donations almost double

All toys donated Sunday will be given to the Red Deer Christmas Bureau and Red Deer Salvation Army

VIDEO: Replay Red Deer: Nov. 19

Watch news highlights from the week of Nov. 13

CP Holiday train to stop in Ponoka for another year

The popular train will feature entertainment from Colin James and Emma-Lee

Kittens rescued after allegedly being tossed from vehicle

Couple finds abandoned kittens new home through Facebook

VIDEO: ‘Party bus’ goes up in flames in Vancouver

Fire crews responded to the late night blaze

Chicken crosses B.C. road, stops traffic

Rooster makes early morning commuters wait in Maple Ridge

Red Deerian honours her brother who died in a motorcycle collision

Houaida Haddad is encouraging Red Deer residents to donate blood

Red Deer County firefighters to be recognized for Waterton help

RCMP brass will give formal recognition Monday

Ron James tries to lighten humanity’s load through humour

The comedian returns to Red Deer for shows Dec. 1 and 2

100+ Women Red Deer donate to Christmas Bureau

About $14,000 will help with Christmas hampers and toys

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month