Anatomy of contaminated aquifers of an industrial site: insights from the stable isotope compositions of waters and dissolved inorganic carbon

Torsten W. Vennemann, Sonja Angloher-Reichelt


The hydrogen and oxygen isotopes of water and the carbon isotope composition of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) from different aquifers at an industrial site, highly contaminated by organic pollutants representing residues of the former gas production, have been used as natural tracers to characterize the hydrologic system. On the basis of their stable isotope compositions as well as the seasonal variations, different groups of waters (precipitation, surface waters, groundwaters and mineral waters) as well as seasonably variable processes of mixing between these waters can clearly be distinguished. In addition, reservoir effects and infiltration rates can be estimated. In the northern part of the site an influence of uprising mineral waters within the Quaternary aquifers, presumably along a fault zone, can be recognized. Marginal infiltration from the Neckar River in the east and surface water infiltration adjacent to a steep hill on the western edge of the site with an infiltration rate of about one month can also be resolved through the seasonal variation. Quaternary aquifers closer to the centre of the site show no seasonal variations, except for one borehole close to a former mill channel and another borehole adjacent to a rain water channel. Distinct carbon isotope compositions and concentrations of DIC for these different groups of waters reflect variable influence of different components of the natural carbon cycle: dissolution of marine carbonates in the mineral waters, biogenic, soil-derived CO2 in ground- and surface waters, as well as additional influence of atmospheric CO2 for the surface waters. Many Quaternary aquifer waters have, however, distinctly lower d13 CDIC values and higher DIC concentrations compared to those expected for natural waters. Given the location of contaminated groundwaters at this site but also in the industrially well-developed valley outside of this site, the most likely source for the low d13 CDIC values is a biodegradation of anthropogenic organic substances, in particular the tar oils at the site.

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