Abstract

Knowing how environmental properties affect dense nonaqueous phase liquid (DNAPL) solvent flow in the subsurface is essential for developing models of flow and transport in the vadose zone necessary for designing remediation and long-term stewardship strategies. For example, one must know if solvents are flowing in water-wetted or solvent-wetted environments, the pore-size distribution of the region containing DNAPLs, and the impact of contaminated plumes and their transport mechanisms in porous media. Our research investigates the capability and limitations of low-field proton nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) relaxation decay-rate measurements for determining environmental properties affecting DNAPL solvent flow in the subsurface. The measurements that can be performed with the laboratory low-field system can also be performed in situ in the field with the current generation of commercial borehole logging tools. The oil and gas industry uses NMR measurements in deep subsurface, consolidated formations to determine porosity and hydrocarbon content and to estimate formation permeability. These determinations rely on the ability of NMR to distinguish between water and hydrocarbons in the pore space and to obtain the distribution of pore sizes from relaxation decay-rate distributions. In this paper, we will show how NMR measurement techniques can be used to characterize, monitor, and evaluate the dynamics of mixed fluids (water-DNAPL) in unconsolidated near-surface porous environments, and describe the use of proton NMR T2 (spin-spin relaxation time) measurements in unconsolidated sandy-soil samples to identify and characterize the presence of DNAPLs in these environments. The potential of NMR decay-rate distributions for characterizing DNAPL fluids in the subsurface and understanding their flow mechanisms has not previously been exploited; however, near-surface unsaturated vadose zone environments do provide unique challenges for using NMR measurements. These challenges are addressed through systematic laboratory experiments and a program of research to extend and adapt current field NMR measurements to near-surface environmental problems.

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