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Palaeowaters in European coastal aquifers – the goals and main conclusions of the PALAEAUX project

W. M. Edmunds
W. M. Edmunds
British Geological Survey, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford, Oxfordshire OXIO 8BB, UK
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January 01, 2001


The Palaeaux project has brought together up-to-date geochemical, isotopic and hydrogeological information on coastal groundwaters across Europe in a transect from the Baltic to the Canary Islands. These data have been interpreted in relation to past climatic and environmental conditions, as well as extending and challenging concepts about the evolution of groundwater near the present day coastlines. Groundwater movement beyond the present coastline as well as emplacement on shore to greater depths (up to 500 m) than allowed by the present-day flow regime has occurred, hence offshore freshwater reserves are inferred in some coastal areas. The main attributes of palaeowaters, in terms of water quality, are their high bacterial purity, total mineralization that is often less than that of modem waters and being demonstrably free of anthropogenic chemicals. However, in the Mediterranean coastal areas, lower recharge leads to higher salinity conditions in both palaeo- and modem waters.

Freshwater of high quality originating from different climatic conditions to the present day, when the sea level was much lower, is found at depth beneath the present-day coastline in several countries. Recharge is shown to have been more or less continuous during the past 100 ka, even beneath the ice, as demonstrated by groundwaters from Estonia, having δ18O values of c. −22%. However, elsewhere (UK and Belgium) an age gap can be recognized indicating that no recharge took place at the time of the last glacial maximum. Devensian recharge temperatures (soil air temperatures) were some 6°C colder across Europe than at the present day.

The development of aquifers in Europe during the past 50–100 a, by abstraction from boreholes, has generally disturbed flow systems that have evolved over varying geological timescales, especially those derived from the Late Pleistocene and Holocene. Hydrogeophysical logging has demonstrated time and quality stratified aquifers resulting in mixed waters being produced on pumping. A range of specific indicators, including 3H, 3H/3He, 85Kr, chlorofluorocarbons and pollutants, have been used to recognize the extent to which waters from the modern (industrial) era have penetrated into the aquifers, often replacing the natural palaeogroundwaters.

In the coastal regions, many problems for management are identified, including issues relating to quantity and quality of water, seasonal demand, pollution risks and ecosystem damage, requiring a new look at legislation.

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Geological Society, London, Special Publications

Palaeowaters in Coastal Europe: Evolution of Groundwater since the Late Pleistocene

W. M. Edmunds
W. M. Edmunds
British Geological Survey, Wallingford, UK
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C. J. Milne
C. J. Milne
British Geological Survey, Wallingford, UK
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Geological Society of London
ISBN electronic:
Publication date:
January 01, 2001




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