Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy in Geology (PhD)
College, School or Department Name
Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences
John S Gierke
The occurrence of elevated uranium (U) in sandstone aquifers was investigated in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, focusing on aquifers of the Jacobsville Sandstone. The hydrogeochemical controls on groundwater U concentrations were characterized using a combination of water sampling and spectral gamma-ray logging of sandstone cliffs and residential water wells. 235U/238U isotope ratios were consistent with naturally occurring U. Approximately 25% of the 270 wells tested had U concentrations above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 30 μg/L, with elevated U generally occurring in localized clusters. Water wells were logged to determine whether groundwater U anomalies could be explained by the heterogeneous distribution of U in the sandstone. Not all wells with relative U enrichment in the sandstone produced water with U above the MCL, indicating that the effect of U enrichment in the sandstone may be modified by other hydrogeochemical factors. Well water had high redox, indicating U is in its highly soluble (VI) valence. Equilibrium modeling indicated that aqueous U is complexed with carbonates. In general, wells with elevated U concentrations had low 235U/238U activity ratios. However, in some areas U concentrations and 235U/238U activity ratios were simultaneously high, possibly indicating differences in rock-water interactions. Limited groundwater age dating suggested that residence time may also help explain variations in well water U concentrations. Low levels of U enrichment (4 to 30 ppm) in the Jacobsville sandstone may make wells in its oxidized aquifers at risk for U concentrations above the MCL. On average, U concentrations were highest in heavy mineral and clay layers and rip up conglomerates. Uranium concentrations above 4 ppm also occurred in siltstones, sandstones and conglomerates. Uranium enrichment was likely controlled by deposition processes, sorption to clays, and groundwater flow, which was controlled by permeability variations in the sandstone. Low levels of U enrichment were found at deltaic, lacustrine and alluvial fan deposits and were not isolated to specific depositional environments.
Sherman, Heidi M., "Hydrogeochemical controls on uranium in aquifers of the Jacobsville Sandstone", Dissertation, Michigan Technological University, 2004.