We have used surface-based electrical resistivity tomography to detect and characterize preferential hydraulic pathways in the immediate downstream area of an abandoned, hazardous landfill. The landfill occupies the void left by a former gravel pit and its base is close to the groundwater table and lacking an engineered barrier. As such, this site is remarkably typical of many small- to medium-sized waste deposits throughout the densely populated and heavily industrialized foreland on both sides of the Alpine arc. Outflows of pollutants lastingly contaminated local drinking water supplies and necessitated a partial remediation in the form of a synthetic cover barrier, which is meant to prevent meteoric water from percolating through the waste before reaching the groundwater table. Any future additional isolation of the landfill in the form of lateral barriers thus requires adequate knowledge of potential preferential hydraulic pathways for outflowing contaminants. Our results, inferred from a suite of tomographically inverted surfaced-based electrical resistivity profiles oriented roughly perpendicular to the local hydraulic gradient, indicate that potential contaminant outflows would predominantly occur along an unexploited lateral extension of the original gravel deposit. This finds its expression as a distinct and laterally continuous high-resistivity anomaly in the resistivity tomograms. This interpretation is ground-truthed through a litholog from a nearby well. Since the probed glacio-fluvial deposits are largely devoid of mineralogical clay, the geometry of hydraulic and electrical pathways across the pore space of a given lithological unit can be assumed to be identical, which allows for an order-of-magnitude estimation of the overall permeability structure. These estimates indicate that the permeability of the imaged extension of the gravel body is at least two to three orders-of-magnitude higher than that of its finer-grained embedding matrix. This corroborates the preeminent role of the high-resistivity anomaly as a potential preferential flow path.

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