Special Issue "Environmental Tracers"


A special issue of Water (ISSN 2073-4441).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 November 2013)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Dr. Trevor Elliot
Environmental Tracers Laboratory (ETL), Environmental Engineering Research Centre (EERC), School of Planning, Architecture & Civil Engineering (SPACE), Queen's University Belfast, David Keir Building, Stranmillis Road, Belfast. BT9 5AG. Northern Ireland, UK
Website: http://space.qub.ac.uk:8077/EERC/elliot/default.aspx
E-Mail: t.elliot@qub.ac.uk
Phone: +44 28 9097 4736
Interests: intelligent tracers for environmental & engineering systems, eg natural, ambient environmental tracers (including stable isotopes, noble gases, CFC’s, SF6, environmental radioactivity) and/or applied tracers; geohydrology; isotope hydrology; groundwater dating; aquifer sustainability issues

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Aquifer resources continue to be overexploited, leaving the world's most impoverished (or vulnerable) populations and/or the aquatic environment at an ever increasing risk from climate change.  Adaptation strategies demand detailed evaluation and management of water as a resource, requiring an understanding of the chemical, geological (hydrogeological/geohydrological) and biological interactions that waters effect or undergo in the hydrologic cycle. Environmental tracers are ambient natural or man-made compounds widely distributed in the Earth’s near-surface. They may be injected into the hydrological system from the atmosphere at recharge and/or are added/lost/exchanged inherently as waters flow over and through materials.  Variations in their chemical abundances and isotopic compositions can be used as tracers to determine sources (provenance), pathways (of reaction or interaction) and also timescales (dating) of environmental processes. Water dating may invoke their characteristic decay or accumulation functions, (cf. radioactive and radiogenic compounds and isotopes) in a system or the characteristic injection of sources. Environmental tracers in groundwater systems can give information both on current and past flow conditions independently of hydraulic analyses and modelling. Thus, environmental tracers generically are important tools for developing sustainable management policies for the protection of water resources and the aquatic environment.

Recent overviews have highlighted how most environmental tracer systematics have become well-established through proof-of-concept studies in geochemically and hydraulically simple aquifers. The challenge now lies in enhancing the way they are put to use by the hydrologic community and water resource managers in more complex systems (e.g. inter- and intra-aquifer mixing; aquifers as distributed water systems – water coming in at one point is going somewhere, and pumping of water represents an interception) and how they may be used to address issues of vulnerability, sustainability, and uncertainty in water resource systems (including resource, flooding, drought, climate justice, water and food security, water footprints,  etc.).

Therefore we would like to call for papers to disseminate and share findings especially on the robustness or fitness-for-purpose of the application and use of environmental tracers in water resource systems in addressing problems and opportunities scientifically. Papers are selected by a rigorous peer review procedure with the aim of rapid and wide dissemination of research results, development and application in the wide area of environmental tracers. Original research papers or critical reviews are invited.

Dr. Trevor Elliot
Guest Editor


Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. Papers will be published continuously (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are refereed through a peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Water is an international peer-reviewed Open Access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1000 CHF (Swiss Francs).


  • environmental tracers
  • water dating, transit and residence times
  • complex systems
  • inter- and intra-aquifer mixing
  • distributed systems
  • vulnerability, sustainability, and uncertainty in water resource systems

Published Papers (7 papers)

Water 2014, 6(4), 1013-1027; doi:10.3390/w6041013
Received: 20 January 2014; in revised form: 1 April 2014 / Accepted: 9 April 2014 / Published: 22 April 2014
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Water 2014, 6(4), 745-777; doi:10.3390/w6040745
Received: 2 December 2013; in revised form: 19 March 2014 / Accepted: 19 March 2014 / Published: 27 March 2014
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abstract graphic

Water 2014, 6(3), 584-601; doi:10.3390/w6030584
Received: 6 December 2013; in revised form: 28 February 2014 / Accepted: 4 March 2014 / Published: 24 March 2014
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Water 2014, 6(2), 301-323; doi:10.3390/w6020301
Received: 11 November 2013; in revised form: 16 January 2014 / Accepted: 24 January 2014 / Published: 28 January 2014
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Water 2013, 5(3), 1116-1140; doi:10.3390/w5031116
Received: 28 April 2013; in revised form: 6 June 2013 / Accepted: 9 July 2013 / Published: 25 July 2013
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Water 2013, 5(2), 617-628; doi:10.3390/w5020617
Received: 18 March 2013; in revised form: 8 May 2013 / Accepted: 8 May 2013 / Published: 17 May 2013
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Water 2013, 5(2), 480-504; doi:10.3390/w5020480
Received: 15 February 2013; in revised form: 3 April 2013 / Accepted: 3 April 2013 / Published: 19 April 2013
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Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: Evaluation of the Age of Landfill Gas Methane in Landfill Gas/Natural Gas Mixtures Using Co-Occurring Constituents
Henry Kerfoot
At a municipal solid waste landfill in Southern California, USA overlying a natural gas reservoir, methane was detected at up to 40%(v:v) in perimeter probes sampling soil gas. Evaluation of the methane using stable isotopes and 14C was used to assess the relative contributions of landfill gas and natural gas to the measured methane concentrations and it was found that landfill gas contributions exceeded the regulatory threshold of 5% at some probes. The gas probe data, including concentrations of volatile organic compounds, were reviewed and it was observed that the methane/carbon dioxide ratios showed extensive weathering.  Concentrations of volatile organic compounds in probe samples and landfill gas within the waste were evaluated to assess the residence time of the landfill gas in the probes. The ratio of a readily degraded constituent to that of a minimally degraded one and a literature value for the half-life or the readily degraded constituent were used were used to estimate the time since the landfill gas left the waste. Results showed that the landfill gas in probe samples was released from the waste ~3 years ago, rather than representing evidence of an ongoing release.

Title: Environmental Tracers of Glacial and Post Glacial Transitions as Recorded in the Composition of Black Sea Water and Sediment
Anastasia G. Yanchilina, William B. F. Ryan et al.
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Palisades, NY 10964 USA
Today the Black Sea is the world’s largest anoxic basin and is connected to the global ocean by a network of narrow straits, shallow sills and intervening seaways.  Its sediments are a resource for investigating millennial-scale changes across Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia during and since the ice age. Here we present a series of environmental tracers from shelf, slope and basin floor cores as well as cave deposits to chronicle the evolution of Black Sea water.  These tracers include carbon, oxygen and strontium isotopes, radiocarbon, calcium carbonate abundance, color, mollusk and ostracod assemblages, pollen, porewater and XRF element chemistry.  During glacial periods, the tracers indicate that the Black Sea existed as the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake that at times had a frozen lid.  Deglaciation brought a series of meltwater floods that delivered red clays, increased the ventilation, and oxidized the deep water with hyperpycnal gravity-driven sediment suspensions.  The flood deposits, in addition to their color, are distinguished by high Ti content, depleted d18O and a strontium isotopic excursion.  Once the deglaciation periods ended, the lake became thermally stratified as documented by vertical gradients in the stable isotope composition of benthic shells and by black, sulfide-rich deposits.  Saltwater conditions appeared when the Mediterranean connected with the lake after global sea level rose to the level of the Bosporus sill.  The introduction of seawater led to rapid colonization by marine species, an even stronger stratification of the water column, onset of anoxia with the formation of H2S in the interior of the sea and the accumulation of finely-laminated jelly-like mud rich in organic carbon. The Mediterranean connections occur abruptly and can be recognized by sudden changes in tracers such as sulfur, bromine, uranium, strontium, magnesium and aragonite.  The stable isotopic compositions of Black Sea water inferred from calcite shell material are mimicked in the isotopic composition of stalagmites in a nearby cave and serve as a tracer for the evolution of atmospheric precipitation in the region during glacial and interglacial cycles.

Last update: 12 June 2013

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