Background: The origin of the spatial variability of dissolved As concentrations in shallow aquifers of the Bengal Basin remains poorly understood. To address this, we compare here transects of simultaneously-collected groundwater and aquifer solids perpendicular to the banks of the Hooghly River in Chakdaha, India, and the Old Brahmaputra River in Araihazar, Bangladesh.Results: Variations in surface geomorphology mapped by electromagnetic conductivity indicate that permeable sandy soils are associated with underlying aquifers that are moderately reducing to a depth of 10-30 m, as indicated by acid-leachable Fe(II)/Fe ratios < 0.6 in the solid phase and concentrations of dissolved sulfate > 5 mg L-1. More reducing aquifers are typically capped with finer-grained soils. The patterns suggest that vertical recharge through permeable soils is associated with a flux of oxidants on the banks of the Hooghly River and, further inland, in both Chakdaha and Araihazar. Moderately reducing conditions maintained by local recharge are generally associated with low As concentrations in Araihazar, but not systematically so in Chakdaha. Unlike Araihazar, there is also little correspondence in Chakdaha between dissolved As concentrations in groundwater and the P-extractable As content of aquifer particles, averaging 191 +/- 122 ug As/L, 1.1 +/- 1.5 mg As kg(-1) (n = 43) and 108 +/- 31 ug As/L, 3.1 +/- 6.5 mg As kg(-1) (n = 60), respectively. We tentatively attribute these differences to a combination of younger floodplain sediments, and therefore possibly more than one mechanism of As release, as well as less reducing conditions in Chakdaha compared to Araihazar.Conclusion: Systematic dating of groundwater and sediment, combined with detailed mapping of the composition of aquifer solids and groundwater, will be needed to identify the various mechanisms underlying the complex distribution of As in aquifers of the Bengal Basin.
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