Geophysical and geochemical characterisation of a site impacted by hydrocarbon contamination undergoing biodegradation
Hydrocarbon contamination, which can alter the physiochemical and biological properties of the subsurface, can be monitored by using geochemical analyses and integrated geophysical techniques. Electrical resistivity tomography, induced polarization, ground-penetrating radar, and self-potential methods were used in this work to characterise the hydrocarbon contamination and investigate the geoelectrical properties of a site impacted by an aged hydrocarbon plume. Throughout the investigation, geoelectrical measurements supported the conductive plume model and consistently recorded low-resistivity anomalies and high-chargeability values in the contaminated aquifer. Furthermore, the low-resistivity anomalies were found to be coincident with regions of ground-penetrating radar attenuated reflections and significant negative self-potential anomalies associated with oxidation– reduction processes. These findings were supported by the geochemical measurements, which revealed depleted concentrations of terminal electron acceptors (TEAs) and elevated amounts of ions and total dissolved solids, which could be attributed to bacterial biodegradation of hydrocarbons. The study showed that biological alterations of hydrocarbon-induced subtle changes in the pore water biogeochemistry, which consequently modified the geophysical properties of the contaminated sediments. Based on these observations, the extent of groundwater contamination was delineated according to the geophysical contrast between the contaminated and clean zones. The combination of different geophysical methods constrained by geochemical point measurements provided insight on the different processes that might have modified the soil and groundwater biogeochemical properties.