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Environ Sci Technol. 2018 Dec 4;52(23):13681-13689. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.8b04367. Epub 2018 Nov 14.

Tomographic Reservoir Imaging with DNA-Labeled Silica Nanotracers: The First Field Validation.

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Geothermal Energy and Geofluids Group, Department of Earth Sciences , ETH Zurich , 8092 Zurich , Switzerland.
Institute of Mathematics , University of Potsdam , 14476 Potsdam-Golm , Germany.
Functional Materials Laboratory, Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences , ETH Zurich , 8093 Zurich , Switzerland.
Institute of new Energy Systems (InES) , Ingolstadt University of Applied Sciences , 85049 Ingolstadt , Germany.


This study presents the first field validation of using DNA-labeled silica nanoparticles as tracers to image subsurface reservoirs by travel time based tomography. During a field campaign in Switzerland, we performed short-pulse tracer tests under a forced hydraulic head gradient to conduct a multisource-multireceiver tracer test and tomographic inversion, determining the two-dimensional hydraulic conductivity field between two vertical wells. Together with three traditional solute dye tracers, we injected spherical silica nanotracers, encoded with synthetic DNA molecules, which are protected by a silica layer against damage due to chemicals, microorganisms, and enzymes. Temporal moment analyses of the recorded tracer concentration breakthrough curves (BTCs) indicate higher mass recovery, less mean residence time, and smaller dispersion of the DNA-labeled nanotracers, compared to solute dye tracers. Importantly, travel time based tomography, using nanotracer BTCs, yields a satisfactory hydraulic conductivity tomogram, validated by the dye tracer results and previous field investigations. These advantages of DNA-labeled nanotracers, in comparison to traditional solute dye tracers, make them well-suited for tomographic reservoir characterizations in fields such as hydrogeology, petroleum engineering, and geothermal energy, particularly with respect to resolving preferential flow paths or the heterogeneity of contact surfaces or by enabling source zone characterizations of dense nonaqueous phase liquids.

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