Groundwater Origin in Qanats, Chemo-Isotopic, and Hydrogeological Evidence

Ground Water. 2020 Sep;58(5):771-776. doi: 10.1111/gwat.12975. Epub 2020 Jan 7.


A systematic study of the chemo-isotopic characteristics and origin of the groundwater was carried out at six major qanats in the hyper-arid Gonabad area, eastern Iran. These qanats as a sustainable groundwater extraction technology have a long history, supporting human life for more than a thousand years in this region. The Gonabad qanats are characterized by outlet electrical conductivity (EC) values of 750 to 3900 µS/cm and HCO3 -Na-Mg and Cl-Na water types. The Gonabad meteoric water line (Gn MWL) was drawn at the local scale as δ2 H = 6.32×δ18 O + 8.35 (with R2 = 0.90). It has a lower slope and intercept than the global meteoric water line due to different water vapor sources and isotope kinetic fractionation effects during precipitation in this arid region. The altitude effects on isotopic content of precipitation data were derived as δ18 O = (-0.0031 × H(m.a.s.l) )-1.3). The δ2 H and δ18 O isotopes signatures demonstrate a meteoric origin of the groundwater of these qanats. The shift of the qanat's water samples from the local meteoric water line (LMWL) in a dry period with higher temperatures is most probably due to evaporation during the infiltration process and water movement in qanat gallery. Based on the isotopic results and mass balance calculations, the qanats are locally recharged from an area between 2000 to 2400 m.a.s.l of nearby carbonate formations and coarse alluvial sediments. The dissolution of evaporate interlayers in Neogene deposits deteriorates the groundwater quality, especially in Baidokht qanat.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Groundwater*
  • Humans
  • Iran
  • Isotopes
  • Oxygen Isotopes / analysis
  • Water Movements


  • Isotopes
  • Oxygen Isotopes