Identifying the origin of groundwater for water resources sustainable management in an arid oasis, China

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Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering


Many oases are experiencing severe groundwater depletion due to increased population, expanding agriculture and economic development. For sustainable development, quantifying groundwater recharge resources are fundamentally important. In this study, stable isotope techniques were employed to identify recharge sources of groundwater and quantitatively evaluate their contribution ratios in the Dunhuang Oasis, northwest China. Our findings indicate that heavy isotopes in shallow groundwater are more negative than those in deep groundwater, which is attributed to shallow groundwater that was modern and deep groundwater that was old. Irrigated return water and lateral groundwater flow from the Qilian Mountains are considered as the two main sources of shallow groundwater, accounting for 35% and 65% of the total recharge, respectively. Thus, as the main groundwater source of the Dunhuang Oasis, the Qilian Mountain Front should be protected against over-exploitation. Our results provide not only fundamental knowledge for groundwater management of aquifers of the Oasis, but also valuable water management information for other similar arid oases worldwide.

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Hydrological Sciences Journal