The relationship of total dissolved solids measurements to bulk electrical conductivity in an aquifer contaminated with hydrocarbon
A recent conceptual model links higher bulk conductivities at hydrocarbon impacted sites to higher total dissolved solids (TDS) resulting from enhanced mineral weathering due to acids produced during biodegradation. In this study, we evaluated the above model by investigating the vertical distribution of bulk conductivity, TDS, and specific conductance in groundwater. The results showed higher TDS at contaminated locations consistent with the above model. Further, steep vertical gradients in bulk conductivity and TDS suggest vertical and spatial heterogeneity at the site. We observed that at fluid conductivities <40 mS/m, bulk conductivity was inversely related to fluid conductivity, but at fluid conductivities >40 mS/m, bulk conductivity increased with increasing fluid conductivity. However, at fluid conductivities >80 mS/m, bulk conductivities increased without a corresponding increase in fluid conductivity, resulting in a poor correlation between bulk conductivity and fluid conductivity for the contaminated samples. This suggests that electrolytic conductivity was not completely responsible for the observed variability in bulk conductivity. We suggest two possible reasons for the inverse relationship at low fluid conductivity and poor positive correlation at high fluid conductivity: (1) geochemical heterogeneity due to biological processes not captured at a scale comparable to the bulk conductivity measurement and (2) variability in the surface conductivity, consistent with a simple petrophysical model that suggests higher surface conductivity for contaminated sediments. We conclude that biodegradation processes can impact both electrolytic and surface conduction properties of contaminated sediments and these two factors can account for the higher bulk conductivities observed in sediments impacted by hydrocarbon.