Appropriate management strategies are essential for the protection and maintenance of groundwater resources. It is therefore important that aquifers are understood in terms of hydraulics, recharge, and yield potential, and that the vulnerability of aquifers to surface pollution is evaluated. A range of aquifer types were examined in this study, and water samples were analyzed for the radiocarbon content of the total dissolved inorganic carbon (TDIC), stable isotopes, and a suite of chemical and physical parameters. The data were input to a selection of models for the estimation of the initial activity of the TDIC, and groundwater ages were calculated. Eight commonly used models were comparatively assessed in the study. The Tamers, Mook, and IAEA models gave anomalous ages, probably because of their inability to correct for solid phase isotopic exchange in aquifers. The Pearson, F&G, Evans, Eichinger, and Mass Balance models produced results in broad agreement.
The study shows that contrary to popular belief, there are sources of ancient groundwater in Ireland. Of the 19 sampling stations, two boreholes yielded waters with age estimates of greater than 10,000 BP. Water samples from a further six sites returned ages of between around 800 and 4000 BP. In contrast to borehole samples, spring wells yielded water of consistently young ages, demonstrating rapid recharge and flow mechanisms. Samples from several spring wells produced negative ages, indicating the presence of anthropogenic 14C. The findings demonstrate the potential for contamination of springs by surface runoff, while sources of greater age generally offer a greater degree of protection from surface pollution.