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Human Activity Ups The Risk Of Contaminating Valuable Groundwater

25 April 2017, 12:05 pm EDT By Andrew Norman Tech Times
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A study showed that the Earth's groundwater was polluted with chemicals found in present day rain water. The 12,000-year-old fossil water pollution was quite common and roughly half the reserves tested showed signs of contamination.  ( Ian Waldie | Getty Images )

Pollution levels are increasing each day with new air and water pollutants being emitted into the environment via automobiles and large scale factories. However, it was thought that at least underground water or groundwater was unaffected.

A new study reveals that this may not be the case. Scientists have found a baffling trace of present-day rain water in one particular groundwater reserve.

Groundwater Pollution

Groundwater contains rainwater and molten ice, which seeps through the soil. Over time this gets deposited underground. This process takes thousands and sometimes even millions of years.

For the study, the researchers collected samples of groundwater from a depth of 820 feet under the Earth's surface. The water at this level is known as "fossil", mainly because it is almost 12,000 years old. This fossil water was then tested and the researchers found traces of modern-day rainwater mixed with the ancient sample.

The scientists mainly detected tritium — a radioactive isotope of hydrogen — which is generally found in human contaminated waters.

"This observation questions the common perception that fossil groundwaters are largely immune to modern contamination," the researchers concluded.

It was once thought that the fossil water was impervious to the pollutants on the surface, but the study proved that groundwater pollution is a reality.

How Old Is Earth's Groundwater?

While groundwater pollution and contamination was discovered perchance, the researchers were originally focused on ascertaining how much of Earth's fossil water was over 12,000 years old.

The scientists used the groundwater's carbon signature to determine the age when it was deposited. The researchers noted that a significant amount of groundwater reserves today had deposits of fossil water, which was at least 12,000 years old.

Being from such an old period, the scientists were certain that this groundwater would not possess any human contaminants. Therefore, they were baffled when they observed traces of modern-day chemicals in the water.

Are Humans Responsible For Contaminating Groundwater?

Scientists posit that the contamination is taking place through leaks and holes in the wells, which people use to draw groundwater. This is not a small contamination as scientists shared that roughly 50 percent of the groundwater was already polluted.

Researchers warned that more effort and care should be taken to preserve this water source. Groundwater pollution is harmful because this source is generally used for irrigating crops. Polluted groundwater may eventually lead to food contamination.

"We conclude that water quality risk should be considered along with sustainable use when managing fossil groundwater resources," the researchers advised.

The study's results have been published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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