Bulletin of the National Speleological Society - ISSN 0146-9517
Volume 30 Number 3: 55-74 - July 1968

A publication of the National Speleological Society

Comparative Investigations into Recent Methods of Tracing Subterranean Water
K. Buchtela, J. Mairhofer, V. Maurin, T. Papadimitropoulos and J. Zötl


The growing number of investigations involving the tracing of subterranean water has led to the improvement of old methods of water tracing, such as the use of dyes and salts, and to the introduction of new methods,such as radioactive tracers, neutron activation analysis, and dyed lycopodium spores. Experiments comparing various methods of subterranean water tracing were conducted in the Buchkogel area near Graz, Austria, using Rhodamine B dye, ammonium bromide, radioactive iodine, and dyed lycopodium spores, during 1963.

Results of the experiments showed that lycopodium spores travel faster than other tracers. Bromine and Rhodamine B travel at appoximately the same rates, whereas radioactive iodine moved more slowly than other tracers.

While each of the tracers proved successful, each has certain limitations. If the area of investigation is large, radioactive isotopes method is virtually ruled out because of the large number of personnel required, but the method should prove useful where the water is thought to flow through fine clastic sediments. Lycopodium spores would seem to be most useful for large areas, where several colors of dyed spores may be used to trace flow from several swallow holes simultaneoudly. However, the method is restricted to areas where flow is thought to be through open conduits. Rhodamine B has proven utility, but it is adsorbed by clays. A combined use of spores and Rhodamine B is of great utility. The neutron activiation analysis method allow a fair estimate to be made of the water in the underground system, a feature that is not possible with other methods, but the amount of ammonium bromide required is appreciably larger than the amount of spores or dye.

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