Strategies available to evaluate the performance of in situ permeable reactive barriers are currently not well developed and often rely on fluid and media sampling directly from the permeable reactive barrier (PRB). Here, we investigate the utility of the self-potential (SP) method as a technique to monitor in situ PRB performance. Our field study was conducted at in situ biological PRB in Portadown, Northern Ireland, UK, which was emplaced to assist in the remediation of groundwater contamination (e.g., hydrocarbons, ammonia) that resulted from the operations and waste disposal practices of a former gasworks. Borehole SP measurements were collected during the injection of contaminant groundwater slugs in an attempt to monitor/detect the response of the microbial activity associated with the breakdown of the added contaminants into the PRB. In addition, an uncontaminated groundwater slug was injected into a different portion of the PRB as a ‘control’ and SP measurements were collected for comparison to the SP response of the contaminant slugs. The results of the SP signals due to the contaminant injections show that the magnitude of the response was relatively small (<10 mV) yet showed a consistent decrease during both contaminant injections. The net decrease in SP recorded during the contaminant injections slowly rebounded to near background values through ~44 hours post-injection. The SP response during the uncontaminated injection showed a slight, albeit negligible (within the margin of error), 1 mV increase in the measured SP signals, in contrast to the contaminant injections. The results of the SP signals recorded from the uncontaminated groundwater injection also persisted through a period of ~47 hours after injection but show a net increase in SP relative to pre-injection values. Based on the difference in SP response between the contaminated and uncontaminated injections, we suggest that the responses are likely to be the result of differences in the chemistry of the injection types (contaminated versus uncontaminated) and in situ groundwater. We argue that the SP signals associated with the contaminated injections are dominated by diffusion (electrochemical) potential, possibly enhanced by a microbial effect. While the results of our investigation show a consistent SP response associated with the contaminant injections that is dominated by diffusional effects, further studies are required in order to better understand the effect of microbial activity on SP signals and the potential utility for the SP method to detect/monitor changes that may be indicative of biological PRB performance.
Davis, C. A., Slater, L. D., Kulessa, B., Ferguson, A. S., Atekwana, E. A., Doherty, R., & Kalin, R. (2010). Self-potential signatures associated with an injection experiment at an in situ biological permeable reactive barrier. Near Surface Geophysics, 8(6), 541-551. https://doi.org/10.3997/1873-0604.2010034