Radionuclides as natural tracers of the interaction between groundwater and surface water in the River Andarax, Spain

J Environ Radioact. 2017 Dec;180:9-18. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvrad.2017.09.015. Epub 2017 Oct 2.


The identification of specific aquifers that supply water to river systems is fundamental to understanding the dynamics of the rivers' hydrochemistry, particularly in arid and semiarid environments where river flow may be discontinuous. There are multiple methods to identify the source of river water. In this study of the River Andarax, in the Southeast of Spain, an analysis of natural tracers (physico-chemical parameters, uranium, radium and radon) in surface water and groundwater indicates that chemical parameters and uranium clearly identify the areas where there is groundwater-surface water interaction. The concentration of uranium found in the river defines two areas: the headwaters with U concentrations of 2 μg L-1 and the lower reaches, with U of 6 μg L-1. Furthermore, variation in the 234U/238U isotopic ratio allowed us to detect the influence that groundwater from the carbonate aquifer has on surface water in the headwaters of the river, where the saline content is lower and the water has a calcium bicarbonate facies. The concentration of 226Ra and 222Rn are low in the surface waters: <1.6 × 10-6 μg L-1 and <5.1 × 10-12 μg L-1, respectively. There is a slight increase in the lower reaches where the water has a permanent flow, greater salinity and a calcium-magnesium-sulphate facies. All this is favoured by the influence of groundwater from the detritic aquifer on the surface waters. The results of this study indicate the utility in the use of physico-chemical and radiological data conjointly as tracers of groundwater-surface water interaction in semiarid areas where the lithology of aquifers is diverse (carbonate and detritic) and where evaporitic rocks are present.

Keywords: Groundwater-surface water interaction; Radium; Radon; Semiarid; Uranium.

MeSH terms

  • Groundwater / chemistry
  • Radiation Monitoring / methods*
  • Radioisotopes / analysis*
  • Radium / analysis
  • Radon / analysis
  • Rivers / chemistry
  • Spain
  • Uranium / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Radioactive / analysis*


  • Radioisotopes
  • Water Pollutants, Radioactive
  • Uranium
  • Radon
  • Radium