Geochemistry of the Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer system in the northern Midwest, United States: D in Regional aquifer-system analysis

Professional Paper 1405-D



Distributions of solutes in aquifers of Cambrian and Ordovician age were studied in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, northwestern Indiana, and northern Missouri to determine the sources of solutes and the probable chemical mechanisms that control regional variations in water quality. This work is part of the Northern Midwest Regional Aquifer-System Analysis project, whose objective is to describe and model the regional hydrogeology of the Cambrian- Ordovician aquifer system in the study region. The data base used included more than 3,000 ground-water-quality analyses from all major aquifers, but especially from the St. Peter, Jordan, and Mount Simon Sandstones and their equivalents. Regional variations in the water chemistry of glacial drift and other sedimentary units that overlie the Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer system in recharge areas in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois were also studied, but to a lesser degree.

The most important chemical variation in the aquifer is the change in water type from calcium-sodium-sulfate-bicarbonate water to sodium-calcium-sulfate-bicarbonate and sodium-chloride waters along the longest regional flow path from northwestern Iowa to the Illinois basin. Sodium predominance downgradient from the recharge area is probably related to mechanisms of ion exchange and shalemembrane filtration near the Illinois and Forest City basins.

The most striking aspect of the distribution of dissolved solids and carbon isotopic content of bicarbonate is the increase in concentration and isotopic enrichment from southwestern Wisconsin, southern Minnesota, and northwestern Illinois south toward Missouri. This trend is perpendicular to the present hydraulic gradient that trends from northwestern Iowa southeastward to the Illinois basin. The distribution of dissolved solids defines a "plume" of dilute water having a dissolved-solids concentration of about 500 milligrams per liter, compared with surrounding concentrations more than twice as large. Distribution of the isotopic content of oxygen (<518O) and hydrogen (5D) in water closely parallels that of dissolved solids and shows covariance similar to modern meteoric water. The isotopic contents are more depleted (lighter) toward the south, perpendicular to the direction of current hydraulic gradients. The degree of depletion, compared with the isotopic content of modern recharge water, indicates that the plume and a significant fraction of the ground water in Iowa, northern Missouri, and possibly central Illinois may have originated as recharge during Pleistocene time.

Distributions of dissolved trace constituents in the aquifers probably are related to the proximity to mineralogic sources as well as chemical and hydraulic mechanisms. For example, concentrations of some constituents, such as cadmium and arsenic, are largest in the vicinity of the Dakota Formation in northwestern Iowa. Other constituents, such as beryllium and vanadium, have larger concentrations near the edge of the Forest City basin in southwestern Iowa and northwestern Missouri. Strontium and fluoride concentrations generally increase from north to south, which suggests the input of these trace constituents during the recharge events. However, concentrations of bromide, radium-226, and lithium show distribution patterns similar to the "plume" defined by dissolved solids and isotopes of water, suggesting dilution of concentrations of trace constituents by Pleistocene recharge. Concentrations of other constituents are partly controlled by aquifer temperature, such as silica in south-central Iowa, and solubility controls, such as barium in northeastern Illinois. Additional information on the chemical and mineralogical composition of the aquifer matrix and the isotopically lightest ground water is needed to evaluate the hypothesis of Pleistocene mixing before more quantitative studies can be done to evaluate the different proposed mechanisms that have controlled and modified the water chemistry over time. This study, however, indicates that the ground water in the region is thousands of years old. The study also indicates that the major chemical trends in the aquifers probably are related as much to paleohydrogeologic flow systems during Pleistocene time as to the present flow system, which may postdate the retreat of the last ice sheet about 12,000 years ago.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Geochemistry of the Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer system in the northern Midwest, United States: D in Regional aquifer-system analysis
Series title Professional Paper
Series number 1405
Chapter D
DOI 10.3133/pp1405D
Year Published 1989
Language English
Publisher U.S. Government Printing Office
Publisher location Washington, D.C.
Contributing office(s) Minnesota Water Science Center, Wisconsin Water Science Center
Description vii, 76 p.
Larger Work Type Report
Larger Work Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Larger Work Title Regional aquifer-system analysis
Country United States
State Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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