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Journal of Arid Land  2020, Vol. 12 Issue (2): 331-348    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-020-0067-9
Research article     
Origin and circulation of saline springs in the Kuqa Basin of the Tarim Basin, Northwest China
SHAN Junjie1,2,3, WANG Jianping1,2,*(), SHAN Fashou1,2, TENG Xueming4, FAN Qishun1,2, LI Qingkuan1,2, QIN Zhanjie1,2, ZHANG Xiangru1,2
1 Key Laboratory of Comprehensive and Highly Efficient Utilization of Salt Lake Resources, Qinghai Institute of Salt Lakes, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xining 810008, China
2 Key Laboratory of Salt Lake Geology and Environment of Qinghai Province, Xining 810008, China
3 University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100085, China
4 Tianjin Center, China Geological Survey, Tianjin 300170, China
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It is widely accepted that hydrogeochemistry of saline springs is extremely important to understand the water circulation and evolution of saline basins and to evaluate the potential of potassium-rich evaporites. The Kuqa Basin, located in the northern part of the Tarim Basin in Northwest China, is a saline basin regarded as the most potential potash-seeking area. However, the origin and water circulation processes of saline springs have yet to be fully characterized in this saline basin. In this study, a total of 30 saline spring samples and 11 river water samples were collected from the Qiulitage Structural Belt (QSB) of the Kuqa Basin. They were analyzed for major (K+, Ca2+, Na+, Mg2+, SO42-, Cl- and HCO3-) and trace (Sr2+ and Br-) ion concentrations, stable H-O-Sr isotopes and tritium concentrations in combination with previously published hydrogeochemical and isotopic (H-O) data in the same area. It is found that the water chemical type of saline springs in the study area belonged to the Na-Cl type, and that of river water belonged to the Ca-Mg-HCO3-SO4 type. The total dissolved solid (TDS) of saline springs in the QSB ranged from 117.77 to 314.92 g/L, reaching the brine level. On the basis of the general chemical compositions and the characteristics of the stable H-O-Sr isotopes of saline springs, we infer that those saline springs mainly originated from precipitation following river water recharging. In addition, we found that saline springs were not formed by evapo-concentration because it is unlikely that the high chloride concentration of saline springs resulted in evapo-concentration and high salinity. Therefore, we conclude that saline spring water may have experienced intense evapo-concentration before dissolving the salty minerals or after returning to the surface. The results show that the origin of salinity was mainly dominated by dissolving salty minerals due to the river water and/or precipitation that passed through the halite-rich stratum. Moreover, there are two possible origins of saline springs in the QSB: one is the infiltration of the meteoric water (river water), which then circulates deep into the earth, wherein it dissolves salty minerals, travels along the fault and returns to the surface; another is the mixture of formation water, or the mixture of seawater or marine evaporate sources and its subsequent discharge to the surface under fault conditions. Our findings provide new insight into the possible saltwater circulation and evolution of saline basins in the Tarim Basin.

Key wordsH-O-Sr isotopes      tritium concentration      saline springs      meteoric water      Qiulitage Structural Belt     
Received: 05 September 2019      Published: 10 March 2020
Corresponding Authors: Jianping WANG     E-mail:
About author: *Corresponding author: WANG Jianping (E-mail:

The second and third authors contributed equally to this work.

Cite this article:

SHAN Junjie, WANG Jianping, SHAN Fashou, TENG Xueming, FAN Qishun, LI Qingkuan, QIN Zhanjie, ZHANG Xiangru. Origin and circulation of saline springs in the Kuqa Basin of the Tarim Basin, Northwest China. Journal of Arid Land, 2020, 12(2): 331-348.

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Fig. 1 Geological map of the Kuqa Basin (a) and locations of the main sampling sites in the Qiulitage Structural Belt (QSB) of the Kuqa Basin (b). The geological map of the Kuqa Basin was modified after Liu et al. (2013). QL, Quele Tectonic Belt; WQ, Western Qiulitage Tectonic Belt; EQ, Eastern Qiulitage Tectonic Belt. (1), Yekeqigen Anticline; (2), Kurukol Anticline; (3), Awat Anticline; (4), Miskantak Anticline; (5), North Qiulitage Anticline; (6), South Qiulitage Anticline; (7), Kuqatawu Anticline; (8) Torclark Anticline; (9), Eastern Qiulitage Anticline.
Fig. 2 Generalized Mesozoic-Cenozoic stratigraphy of the Kuqa Basin
Table 1 Chemical and isotope compositions of saline springs in the QSB of the Kuqa Basin
Table 2 Chemical compositions and Isotope compositions of river water in the QSB of the Kuqa Basin
Fig. 3 Piper plots of chemical compositions of saline springs and river water in the QSB of the Kuqa Basin
Fig. 4 Tritium concentration in precipitation from 1952 to 2007 and the decayed tritium concentration in the QSB of the Kaqu Basin (modified after Huang and Pang (2010)). GNIP, Global Network of Isotopes in Precipitation. It should be noted that the tritium input sequence of precipitation in the study area was based on the tritium sequence in the Tarim Basin from 1952 to 2007, which was constructed by Jiao et al. (2004), Huang and Pang (2010) and Pang et al. (2010).
Fig. 5 Relationship between Na/Cl ratio and Cl- concentration of saline springs in the QSB of the Kuqa Basin. Group I included the No. 31, 37-38 and 43-45 samples; Group II included the No. 16-17, 21, 24-26, 29-30 and 35-36 samples; and Group III included the No. 1-15, 18-19, 22-23, 27-28, 32-34 and 39-42 samples. The gray square represents the Na/Cl ratio ranged from 0.71 to1.00.
Fig. 6 Relationship between lg(Br×103/Cl) ratio and Cl- concentration of saline springs in the QSB of the Kuqa Basin. Evaporation-concentration curve of the Yellow Sea water is from Chen (1983).
Fig. 7 Relationship between δD and δ18O of saline springs and river water in the QSB of the Kuqa Basin, Ebinur Lake in Xinjiang (Zheng et al., 1995), intercrystalline brines in the Luo Bei sub-basin (Wang et al., 1997), and the O3l formation water and the O1-2y formation water in the Tazhong area of Tarim Basin (Li and Cai, 2017). The global meteoric water line (GMWL, δD=8δ18O+10) is from Craig (1961) and the local evaporation line (LEL: δD=4.87δ18O-20.71) is from this study.
Fig. 8 Ranges of 87Sr/86Sr ratios in saline springs of the QSB in the Kuqa Basin and from other different strontium sources. The mantle and lithosphere data were sourced from Kelts (1987), seawater data from Hess et al. (1986), and Tertiary halites and Khammouan potash deposit data from Tan et al. (2010).
Fig. 9 Plots of relationship between 87Sr/86Sr ratio and lg(1000/Sr) of saline springs and river water in the QSB of the Kuqa Basin (this study) and the O3l formation water and the O1-2y formation water in the Tazhong area of the Tarim Basin (Li and Cai, 2017). Group I represents meteoric water source; Group II represents formation water mixed with paleo-meteoric water; Group III represents saline springs; and Group IV represents formation water mixed with hydrothermal water.
Fig. 10 Plots of relationship between 87Sr/86Sr ratio and total dissolved solid (TDS) concentration of saline springs and river water in the QSB of the Kuqa Basin (this study) and the O3l formation water and the O1-2y formation water in the Tazhong area of the Tarim Basin (Li and Cai, 2017). Group I represents meteoric water source; Group II represents formation water mixed with paleo-meteoric water; Group III represents saline springs; and Group IV represents formation water mixed with hydrothermal water.
Fig. 11 Water circulation and evolution of saline springs in the QSB of the Kuqa Basin
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