Abstract

Nonintrusively monitoring the spread of contaminants in real time with a geophysical method is an important task in hydrogeophysics. We have developed a sandbox experiment showing that the self-potential method can locate both the source of leakage and the front of a contaminant plume. We monitored the leakage of a plume of salty water from a hole at the bottom of a small tank located at the top of a main sandbox. Initially, the sand was saturated by tap water. At a given time, a hole was opened at the bottom of the tank, allowing the salty water to migrate by diffusion and buoyancy-driven flow in the main sandbox. The bottom of the sandbox contained a network of 32 nonpolarizing silver-silver chloride electrodes with amplifiers, connected to a multichannel voltmeter. The self-potential response associated withthe migration of the salt plume in the sandbox was recorded over time. A self-potential anomaly was observed with amplitude varying from a few millivolts at the start of the leak to a few tens of millivolts after a few minutes. The self-potential data were inverted using a time-lapse tomographic algorithm to reconstruct the position of the volumetric source current density over time. A positive volumetric source current density was associated with the position of the leak at the bottom of the leaking tank, whereas a negative volumetric source current density was associated with the salinity front moving down inside the sandbox. These poles were well reproduced by performing a finite-element simulation of the problem. Using this information, we estimated the speed of the salt plume sinking inside the sandbox. Therefore, the self-potential method can be used to track, in real time, the position of the front of a contaminant plume in a porous material.

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