At the Oak Ridge Integrated Field Research Challenge site, near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, contaminants from the former S-3 ponds have infiltrated the shallow saprolite for over 60 years. Two- and three-dimensional DC-resistivity tomography is used to characterize the number and location of the main contaminant plumes, which include high concentration of nitrate. These contaminant plumes have typically an electrical resistivity in the range 2–20 ohm-m while the background saprolite resistivity is in the range 60–120 ohm-m, so the difference of resistivity can be easily mapped using DC-resistivity tomography to locate the contaminant pathways. We develop a relationship to derive the in situ nitrate concentrations from the 3D resistivity tomograms accounting for the effect of surface conductivity. The footprint of the contamination upon the resistivity is found to be much stronger than the local variations associated with changes in the porosity and the clay content. With this method, we identified a total of five main plumes (termed CP1 to CP5). Plume CP2 corresponds to the main plume in terms of nitrate concentration (∼50,000 mgL1). We also used an active time constrained approach to perform time-lapse resistivity tomography over a section crossing the plumes CP1 and CP2. The sequence of tomograms is used to determine the changes in the nitrate concentrations associated with infiltration of fresh (meteoritic) water from a perched aquifer. This study highlights the importance of accounting for surface conductivity when characterizing plume distributions in clay-rich subsurface systems.

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