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Journal of Arid Land  2021, Vol. 13 Issue (10): 977-994    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-021-0086-1
Research article     
Hydrochemical characteristics and evolution of groundwater in the dried-up river oasis of the Tarim Basin, Central Asia
WANG Wanrui1,2, CHEN Yaning1,*(), WANG Weihua1, XIA Zhenhua1, LI Xiaoyang1,2, Patient M KAYUMBA1,2
1State Key Laboratory of Desert and Oasis Ecology, Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Urumqi 830011, China
2University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100000, China
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Intense human activities in arid areas have great impacts on groundwater hydrochemical cycling by causing groundwater salinization. The spatiotemporal distributions of groundwater hydrochemistry are crucial for studying groundwater salt migration, and also vital to understand hydrological and hydrogeochemical processes of groundwater in arid inland oasis areas. However, due to constraints posed by the paucity of observation data and intense human activities, these processes are not well known in the dried-up river oases of arid areas. Here, we examined spatiotemporal variations and evolution of groundwater hydrochemistry using data from 199 water samples collected in the Wei-Ku Oasis, a typical arid inland oasis in Tarim Basin of Central Asia. As findings, groundwater hydrochemistry showed a spatiotemporal dynamic, while its spatial distribution was complex. TDS and δ18O of river water in the upstream increased from west to east, whereas ion concentrations of shallow groundwater increased from northwest to southeast. Higher TDS was detected in spring for shallow groundwater and in summer for middle groundwater. Pronounced spatiotemporal heterogeneity demonstrated the impacts of geogenic, climatic, and anthropogenic conditions. For that, hydrochemical evolution of phreatic groundwater was primarily controlled by rock dominance and evaporation-crystallization process. Agricultural irrigation and drainage, land cover change, and groundwater extraction reshaped the spatiotemporal patterns of groundwater hydrochemistry. Groundwater overexploitation altered the leaking direction between the aquifers, causing the interaction between saltwater and freshwater and the deterioration of groundwater environment. These findings could provide an insight into groundwater salt migration under human activities, and hence be significant in groundwater quality management in arid inland oasis areas.

Key wordsspatiotemporal variations      groundwater hydrochemistry      hydrochemical evolution      human activities      dried-up river oasis      Tarim Basin     
Received: 10 May 2021      Published: 10 October 2021
Corresponding Authors: CHEN Yaning     E-mail:
Cite this article:

WANG Wanrui, CHEN Yaning, WANG Weihua, XIA Zhenhua, LI Xiaoyang, Patient M KAYUMBA. Hydrochemical characteristics and evolution of groundwater in the dried-up river oasis of the Tarim Basin, Central Asia. Journal of Arid Land, 2021, 13(10): 977-994.

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Fig. 1 Overview of the Tarim Basin and location of the Wei-Ku Oasis (a), distribution of water sampling sites in the Weigan-Kuqa River Basin (b), and hydrogeologic conditions of the Wei-Ku Oasis (c; modified from Wang et al. (2021)).
Fig. 2 Intra-annual variations of monthly average air temperature and monthly precipitation in the Wei-Ku Oasis (a) and monthly runoff in the upstream of the Weigan River (b)
Fig. 3 Stable isotopic compositions for precipitation, surface water, and groundwater samples in the Wei-Ku Oasis. Precipitation isotope data were from GNIP (Global Network of Isotopes in Precipitation) for the Hotan (HT) and Urumqi stations. WK, the Weigan-Kuqa River Basin. GMWL, global meteoric water line (Craig, 1961).
n Statistic pH EC
Cl- SO42- HCO3- Na+ K+ Mg2+ Ca2+ Hydrochemical
23 Max. 12.6 34.7 136.2 10.1 1.9 2.6 51.2 HCO3-Ca
Min. 0.6 1.1 4.4 0.0 0.1 0.3 3.6
Mean 4.5 9.2 40.7 2.8 0.7 1.1 21.1
River water
95 Max. 8.25 1206 146.5 269.6 372.5 92.6 9.2 38.6 138.7 SO4-HCO3-Ca
Min. 7.48 208 1.6 23.7 75.2 2.2 1.0 6.0 44.5
Mean 7.95 609 46.2 122.9 145.9 33.0 4.4 20.7 79.2
Reservoir water
6 Max. 7.81 1361 173.3 259.7 244.8 110.4 10.0 46.6 113.7 HCO3-SO4-Ca
Min. 7.55 665 67.7 118.3 61.5 61.4 6.9 23.9 48.5
Mean 7.73 935 112.4 175.0 137.8 84.5 8.3 31.3 80.3
Shallow unconfined groundwater (well depth<20 m)
53 Max. 8.14 37,400 11,703.6 5502.2 754.7 6732.7 88.8 1085.6 1377.2 Cl-SO4-Na-Mg
Min. 7.52 1134 97.0 183.7 79.0 107.9 0.0 61.2 72.2
Mean 7.83 11,477 2875.2 1674.4 358.6 2018.7 23.4 332.9 456.3
Middle unconfined/confined groundwater (well depth in the range of 20-100 m)
21 Max. 8.42 4520 686.8 1164.1 543.6 452.2 15.8 200.0 291.7 Cl-SO4-Na-Mg-Ca
Min. 7.48 1012 119.1 120.9 110.5 75.2 0.3 13.7 27.1
Mean 7.84 2033 272.4 434.4 261.4 197.3 8.3 83.5 152.8
Deep confined groundwater (well depth>100 m)
1 8.07 572 62.4 87.0 116.9 50.1 3.5 16.3 36.3 HCO3-SO4-Cl-Na-Ca
Table 1 Hydrochemical characteristics for the surface water and groundwater samples obtained in the Weigan-Kuqa River Basin
Fig. 4 Piper plots for precipitation and surface water samples (a) as well as groundwater samples (b) in the Wei-Ku Oasis
Fig. 5 Spatial distributions of river water hydrochemistry, air temperature and precipitation in the upstream of Weigan-Kuqa River Basin. (a), TDS of river water; (b), δ18O of river water; (c), mean annual air temperature (2018-2019); (d), mean annual precipitation (2018-2019). TDS, total dissolved solids; Tem., air temperature; Pre., precipitation.
Fig. 6 Spatial distributions of shallow groundwater hydrochemistry in the Wei-Ku Oasis. (a), TDS; (b), Cl-; (c), SO42-; (d), Na++K+; (e), Ca2+; (f), Mg2+.
Fig. 7 Spatial distributions of middle groundwater hydrochemistry in the Wei-Ku Oasis. (a), TDS; (b), Cl-; (c), SO42-; (d), Na++K+; (e), Ca2+; (f), Mg2+.
Fig. 8 Seasonal variations of surface water and groundwater hydrochemistry in spring, summer, and autumn across the study area. (a), TDS; (b), Cl-; (c), SO42-; (d), Na+; (e), K+; (f), Ca2+; (g), Mg2+. IQR, interquartile range.
River Ca2+ Mg2+ Na++K+ HCO3- Cl- SO42- Reference
Weigan-Kuqa River 79.2 20.7 37.4 145.9 46.2 122.9 This study
Shule River (China) 28.8 19.3 13.9 139.5 11.1 34.8 Zhou (2015)
Heihe River (China) 57.6 21.5 18.1 204.4 10.0 86.1 Nie et al. (2005)
Shiyang River (China) 65.7 29.3 4.9 64.9 1.8 30.9 Gao et al. (2006)
Tarim River (China) 56.7 145.3 302.4 - 769.3 295.1 Wang et al. (2013)
Global mean 15.0 4.1 8.6 58.4 7.8 11.2 Meybeck (2003)
Table 2 Hydrochemical compositions of river water for the Weigan-Kuqa River Basin and their comparisons with other rivers in arid areas of China and the global mean
Fig. 9 Spatial distributions of land use and land cover (LULC; a) and groundwater level depth (b) in the Wei-Ku Oasis in 2018. The data of groundwater level depth were from Wang et al. (2021).
Fig. 10 Plots of TDS vs. Na+/(Na++Ca2+) in surface water (a, b) and TDS vs. Cl-/(Cl-+HCO3-) in groundwater (c, d) in the Wei-Ku Oasis. The basis for this plot was from Gibbs (1970).
Parameter 2000 2010 2015
Cropland area (km2) 3969.3 4302.8 4389.5
Bare land area (km2) 1432.7 1077.8 965.3
Water-saving irrigation area (km2) 0.0 460.5 1103.0
Irrigation water amount (×108 m3) 22.3 25.3 23.1
Salt recharged by inflow water (×104 t) 89.0 101.3 92.6
Agricultural water discharged by drainage canals (×108 m3) 3.1 2.3 1.9
Agricultural salt discharged by drainage canals (×104 t) 170.6 150.9 94.5
Groundwater exploitation (×108 m3) 0.5 2.8 2.9
Depth to groundwater level (m) 2.7 4.0 5.7
Table 3 Information related to land cover types, human activities, and groundwater level in the Wei-Ku Oasis from 2000 to 2015
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