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Diffusive partitioning tracer test for the quantification of nonaqueous phase liquid (NAPL) in the vadose zone: Performance evaluation for heterogeneous NAPL distribution

Lookup NU author(s): Professor David WernerORCiD


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A partitioning tracer test based on gas-phase diffusion in the vadose zone yields estimates of the residual nonaqueous phase liquid (NAPL) saturation. The present paper investigates this technique further by studying diffusive tracer breakthrough curves in the vadose zone for a heterogeneous NAPL distribution. Tracer experiments were performed in a lysimeter with a horizontal layer of artificial kerosene embedded in unsaturated sand. Tracer disappearance curves at the injection point and tracer breakthrough curves at some distance from the injection point were measured inside and outside of the NAPL layer. A numerical code was used to generate independent model predictions based on the physicochemical sand, NAPL, and tracer properties. The measured and modeled tracer breakthrough curves were in good agreement confirming the validity of important modeling assumptions such as negligible sorption of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) tracers to the uncontaminated sand and their fast reversible partitioning between the soil air and the NAPL phase. Subsequently, the model was used to investigate different configurations of NAPL contamination. The experimental and model results show that the tracer disappearance curves of a single-well diffusive partitioning tracer test (DPTT) are dominated by the near-field presence of NAPL around the tip of the soil gas probe. In contrast, breakthrough curves of inter-well tracer tests reflect the NAPL saturation in between the probes, although there is no unique interpretation of the tracer signals if the NAPL distribution is heterogeneous. Numerical modeling is useful for the planning of a DPTT application. Simulations suggest that several cubic meters of soil can be investigated with a single inter-well partitioning tracer test of 24-hour duration by placing the injection point in the center of the investigated soil volume and probes at up to 1 m distance for the monitoring of gaseous tracers.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Werner D, Karapanagioti HK, Höhener P

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Contaminant Hydrology

Year: 2009

Volume: 108

Issue: 1-2

Pages: 54-63

ISSN (print): 0169-7722

ISSN (electronic): 1873-6009

Publisher: Elsevier BV


DOI: 10.1016/j.jconhyd.2009.05.005


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Funder referenceFunder name
Federal Institutes of Technology
21-57115.99Swiss National Science Foundation