Investigating changes of electrical characteristics of the saturated zone affected by hazardous organic waste

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The Picillo Farm, EPA Superfund Site, in western Rhode Island was an unauthorized disposal site of hazardous organic chemicals. Predominantly organic contaminants have entered an aquifer comprised of layered glacial deposits and fractured bedrock and spread past the site boundaries with groundwater flow. Hydraulic conductivities in the glacial deposits range over two orders of magnitude and fractures and faults in the granitic bedrock further complicate the spreading of contaminants. Monitoring wells delineate two plumes that extend towards a fault-controlled valley with lakes and wetlands; one to the northwest and the other to the southwest. In this investigation we studied the electrical characteristics of both plumes. One dimensional Schlumberger depth soundings were conducted along several profile lines over the plumes and compared to those over non-contaminated sections of the site. With regard to the southwestern plume, high formation factors (ratio of bulk layer to pore water resistivity) between 12 and 45 were observed compared to values between 2.5 and 7.7 measured over the non-contaminated sections. Also, high values (> 5) of vertical electrical anisotropy (ratio of geoelectrically determined depth to high resistivity bedrock to drilled depth to bedrock) were measured over the contaminated part of the site. These values are extremely high compared to other non-contaminated sites (range: 2 to 3) in glacial stream channels of southern Rhode Island. Geoelectric measurements were affected by lateral effects. However, the consistency of high formation factors (11 to 35) and high vertical anisotropies (3 to 5) over the southwestern plume in comparison to low formation factors (3 to 8) and vertical anisotropies (1 to 1.5) over non-contaminated sites represents a marked difference between both sites. Overall, the Schlumberger depth soundings are less susceptible to near-surface lateral inhomogeneities than expected from other geoelectrical methods. Also, the disadvantage of a 1D interpretation was compensated by estimating resistivity and thickness ranges within the concept of non-uniqueness using the Dar Zarrouk parameters (Maillet, R., 1947. The fundamental equations of electrical prospecting. Geophysics, 12(4): 529-556.). The results over the northwestern plume, i.e. an area with higher contaminant concentration than the southwestern plume, were mixed and showed no consistent trends. Predominantly reducing conditions, as indicated by the presence of soluble ferric (FeII) iron hydroxides in ground water samples, increased the electrical conductivity. This is believed to have compensated the effect of high formation factors on the bulk saturated layer resistivity within the affected area. © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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Journal of Applied Geophysics