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  1. Abstract

    Across South Asia, millions of villagers have reduced their exposure to high‐arsenic (As) groundwater by switching to low‐As wells. Isotopic tracers and flow modeling are used in this study to understand the groundwater flow system of a semi‐confined aquifer of Pleistocene (>10 kyr) age in Bangladesh that is generally low in As but has been perturbed by massive pumping at a distance of about 25 km for the municipal water supply of Dhaka. A 10‐ to 15‐m‐thick clay aquitard caps much of the intermediate aquifer (>40‐ to 90‐m depth) in the 3‐km2study area, with some interruptions by younger channel sand deposits indicative of river scouring. Hydraulic heads in the intermediate aquifer below the clay‐capped areas are 1–2 m lower than in the high‐As shallow aquifer above the clay layer. In contrast, similar heads in the shallow and intermediate aquifer are observed where the clay layer is missing. The head distribution suggests a pattern of downward flow through interruptions in the aquitard and lateral advection from the sandy areas to the confined portion of the aquifer. The interpreted flow system is consistent with3H‐3He ages, stable isotope data, and groundwater flow modeling. Lateral flow could explain an association of elevated As with high methane concentrations within layers of gray sand below certain clay‐capped portions of the Pleistocene aquifer. An influx of dissolved organic carbon from the clay layer itself leading to a reduction of initially orange sands has also likely contributed to the rise of As.

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