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J Contam Hydrol. 2005 Jun;78(1-2):27-52.

Redistribution of contaminants by a fluctuating water table in a micro-porous, double-porosity aquifer: field observations and model simulations.

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Department of Earth Sciences, University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT, UK.


Large seasonal fluctuations of the water table are characteristic of aquifers with a low specific yield, including those fractured, double-porosity aquifers that have significant matrix porosity containing virtually immobile porewater, such as the Chalk of northern Europe. Where these aquifers are contaminated, a strong relationship between water table elevation and contaminant concentration in groundwater is commonly observed, of significance to the assessment, monitoring, and remediation of contaminated groundwater. To examine the processes governing contaminant redistribution by a fluctuating water table within the 'seasonally unsaturated zone', or SUZ, profiles of porewater solute concentrations have been established at a contaminated site in southern England. These profiles document the contaminant distribution in porewater of the Chalk matrix over the SUZ at a greater level of detail than recorded previously. A novel double-porosity solute transport code has been developed to simulate the evolution of the SUZ matrix porewater contaminant profiles, given a fluctuating water table, when the groundwater is initially contaminated and the SUZ is initially free of contamination. The model is simply characterised by: the matrix-fracture porosity ratio, the matrix block geometry, and a characteristic diffusion time. De-saturation and re-saturation of fractures is handled by a new approximation method. Contaminant accumulates in the upper levels of the SUZ, where it is less accessible to mobile groundwater, and acts as a persistent secondary source of contamination once the original source of contamination has been removed or has become depleted. The 'SUZ process' first attenuates the progress of contaminants in groundwater, and subsequently controls the slow release of contamination back to the mobile groundwater, thus prolonging the duration of groundwater contamination by many years. The SUZ process should operate in any fractured, micro-porous lithology e.g. fractured clays and mudstones, making this approach widely applicable.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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