Use of geoelectrical methods in groundwater pollution surveys in a coastal environment

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The pollution of coastal aquifers by old landfills can contaminate valuable and scarce water resources in the freshwater lens utilized seasonably by overcrowded communities. The pollutants will ultimately flow into the sea where they may also cause a coastal water pollution problem. We have detected pollution in the freshwater lens from a sanitary landfill near Provincetown, Cape Cod, using the geoelectrical resistivity method. This survey included Schlumberger geoelectrical depth soundings and a horizontal geoelectrical profile using the Wenner configuration. The geoelectrical survey was conducted at a site along Highway 6 where it passes the coastal town of Provincetown and a sanitary landfill that has been in operation since 1954. The depth soundings suggest the characteristic decrease in resistivity vs. depth from the high resistivity of the unsaturated zone to the low resistivity of the saltwater saturated zone. The freshwater lens is clearly identified by the change in slope of the steeply dipping curve of resistivity versus electrode spacing. Interpretations made using a multilayer program, Geomate, resulted in layer resistivities between 460 and 95 ohm·m for the freshwater lens. A comparison with well water resistivities suggests that a layer resistivity of 230 ohm·m or lower is indicative of pollution in the freshwater lens. The results of the geoelectrical depth soundings were confirmed in the Wenner horizontal profile. Both measurements suggest that the pollutants do not spread evenly as one would expect for a homogeneous and isotropic medium. Instead, a preferred channel for the flow of the pollutants is observed along a path from the landfill toward the shoreline. The depth to the saltwater/freshwater interface or, more specifically, to the low resistivity-high resistivity interface appears to be shallow where the freshwater lens is polluted. This was confirmed by pore water well samples that were highly mineralized. The equilibrium postulated by the Ghyben-Herzberg relation appears to be disturbed in the area of aquifer pollution. This rise in the conductivity boundary is caused by the highly mineralized bottom of the contaminant plume that submerges into the saltwater saturated zone. In the area of high freshwater pollution the groundwater can be subdivided into three layers that show a decrease in resistivity with depth. The formation factor, F, defined as the ratio of bulk aquifer resistivity to pore water resistivity, shows unusually high values between 10 and 12. These high values are unexpected for an unconsolidated sand. Pollution residues are suspected to clog the pores and thus to increase the resistivity. It is possible that iron-oxidizing bacteria and the precipitation of dissolved iron or organic pollutants are the cause of the high values of F. If proven correct, these interesting possibilities could lead to future new applications of the geoelectrical resistivity method in contaminant hydroloy. © 1994.

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Journal of Applied Geophysics