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Sensitivity models and design protocol for partitioning tracer tests in alluvial aquifers

Jin, M., Butler, G.W., Jackson, R.E., Mariner, P.E., Pickens, J.F., Pope, G.A., Brown, C.L., McKinney, D.C.
Ground water 1997 v.35 no.6 pp. 964-972
chlorinated hydrocarbons, labeling techniques, simulation models, groundwater contamination, alluvium, groundwater flow, testing, aquifers, dense nonaqueous phase liquids, wells, Ohio, Texas, Utah, New Mexico
Zones of dense, nonaqueous phase liquids (DNAPLs) are difficult to characterize as to their volume, composition, and spatial distribution using conventional ground-water extraction and soil-sampling methods. Such incompletely characterized sites have negative consequences for those responsible for their remedial design, e.g., the uncertainties in the optimal placement of ground-water extraction wells and in the duration of remediation. However, the recent use of the partitioning interwell tracer test (PITT) to characterize DNAPL zones at sites in New Mexico [unsaturated alluvium] and in Ohio, Texas, and Utah [saturated alluvium] demonstrates that the volume and spatial distribution of residual DNAPL can be determined with accuracy. The PITT involves injection of a suite of tracers which reversibly partition to different degrees between the DNAPL and the ground water or soil air resulting in the chromatographic separation of the tracer signals observed at the extraction well(s). The design of a PITT requires careful consideration of the hydrostratigraphic, hydraulic, and certain geochemical properties of the alluvium being tested. A three-dimensional, numerical model of a heterogeneous alluvial aquifer containing DNAPL has been developed for use with the UTCHEM simulator to demonstrate partitioning tracer testing and to address questions that are frequently raised in its application. The simulations include the estimation of DNAPL volume for the simple case where only residual DNAPL is present in heterogeneous alluvium, sensitivity studies to demonstrate the effect of increasingly low residual DNAPL saturation on the tracer signal, and the effect of free-phase DNAPL on the estimation of the volume of DNAPL present. Furthermore, the potential interference of sedimentary organic carbon as a DNAPL surrogate on the tracer signal is considered and shown to be readily resolved by the careful choice of tracers. Finally, a protocol for the use of PITTs in alluvial aquifers is presented.