Features of acid-saline systems of Southern Australia

Bruce L. Dickson*, Angela M. Giblin

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    20 Citations (Scopus)


    The discovery of layered, SO4-rich sediments on the Meridiani Planum on Mars has focused attention on understanding the formation of acid-saline lakes. Many salt lakes have formed in southern Australia where regional groundwaters are characterized by acidity and high salinity and show features that might be expected in the Meridiani sediments. Many (but not all) of the acid-saline Australian groundwaters are found where underlying Tertiary sediments are sulfide-rich. When waters from the formations come to the surface or interact with oxidised meteoric water, acid groundwaters result. In this paper examples of such waters around Lake Tyrrell, Victoria, and Lake Dey-Dey, South Australia, are reviewed. The acid-saline groundwaters typically have dissolved solids of 30-60 g/L and pH commonly <4.5. Many contain high concentrations of Fe and other metals, leached from local sediments. The combination of acidity and salinity also releases Ra. Around salt-lakes, these acidic waters often emerge at the surface in marginal spring zones where the low density (ρ ∼ 1.04) regional water flows out over the denser (ρ ∼ 1.16) lake brines. In the spring zones examined, large amounts of Fe are commonly precipitated. In a few places minerals of the alunite-jarosite family are formed which can trap many other metals, including Ra. The studied groundwater systems were discovered by U exploration programs following up radiometric anomalies related to this Ra. Evaporation concentrates the lesser soluble salts (gypsum and some halite) on the surface of the lakes. The lake brines contain most of the more soluble salts and form a column within the porous sediments which is held in place by hydrostatic forces around the salt-lake. These brines are near-neutral in pH. These observations are in contrast to the jarosite-bearing aeolianites found on the Meridiani Planum, Mars. These have an almost homogeneous distribution of Fe oxides and jarosite, with little separation of salts with different solubilities (CaSO4 and MgSO4) or differential separation of elements with differing solubility (K, Na, Ti, Cr). Thus, it is considered unlikely that groundwaters or evaporative salt-lake systems, as found on earth, were involved. Instead, these features point to a water-poor system with local alteration and very little mobilization of elements.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)297-302
    Number of pages6
    JournalApplied Geochemistry
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2009


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