Environmental isotope and hydrochemical characteristics of groundwater in central portion of Mekelle sedimentary outlier, northern Ethiopia

Tewodros Alemayehu*, Albrecht Leis, Martin Dietzel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study investigated the source and hydrogeochemical processes responsible for variation in groundwater chemical characteristics in multi-layered aquifers in the central portion of Mekelle Mesozoic Sedimentary Outlier. Groundwater samples from Aynalem and Ilala sub-catchments were collected and analyzed for major and trace elements and stable isotopes (δ2H, δ18O and δ13C). The findings showed significant difference in concentrations of dissolved ions in the groundwater in response to residence time and varying degrees of water-rock interaction. The groundwater exhibited a pH between 7.85 and 7.38 (average of 7.59) and electrical conductivity from 2430 to 650 μS/cm (average 1336 μS/cm) and water types that were characterized by the dominance of Ca-HCO3/SO4 and Ca-SO4. Most of samples from Aynalem aquifer displayed relatively low dissolved ions due to rapid infiltration of groundwater through fractured zones. The increased concentrations in groundwater are attributed to significant degree of solubility in aquifer where the groundwater flow is slow. The geochemical analysis was supported by the 2H/H, 18O/16O ratios that revealed the effect of evaporation prior to infiltration in groundwater samples from shale dominated aquifer. The δ13CDIC values ranged from −10.3 to −6.6‰, with a mean value of −8.8‰ suggesting both carbonate dissolution and soil CO2 are major sources in the groundwater system. While rapid recharging water maintains minor isotope exchange, extended water-rock interactions in low permeability aquifers may result in heavier δ13CDIC values as infiltration water had sufficient time to equilibrate. The study integrates hydrochemistry and new isotope tracers to gain a better understanding on source of dissolved ions and hydrogeochemical evolution that influence the groundwater chemical variability in multilayered carbonate aquifers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103953
JournalJournal of African Earth Sciences
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Aquifer heterogeneity
  • Carbonate rocks
  • Dissolved ions
  • Hydrogeochemical
  • Mekelle
  • Stable isotopes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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