Use of the Complex Conductivity Method to Monitor Hydrocarbon Degradation in Brackish Environments
Abstract:Hydrocarbon contamination of the subsurface is a global environmental problem. The size, location and recurrence rate of contamination very often inhibits active remediation strategies. When there is no direct threat to humans, and direct/invasive remediation methods are prohibited, monitored natural attenuation is often the remediation method of choice. Consequently, long-term monitoring of hydrocarbon degradation is needed to validate remediation. Geophysical methods, frequently utilized to characterize subsurface contamination, have the potential to be adopted for long term monitoring of contaminant degradation. Over the last decade, the complex conductivity method has shown promise as a method for monitoring hydrocarbon degradation processes in freshwater environments. We investigated the sensitivity of complex conductivity to natural attenuation of oil in a brackish setting, being more representative of the conditions where most oil spills occur such as in coastal environments.
We performed a series of laboratory hydrocarbon biodegradation experiments whilst continuously monitoring complex conductivity. Sediments from a beach impacted by the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) spill were used to provide the hydrocarbon degraders, while fluids with three different salinities, ranging from fresh water to brackish water, were used as the supporting media. All experimental columns, including two abiotic controls, were run in duplicate.
Early results show a dependence of the complex conductivity parameters (both electrolytic and interfacial) on biodegradation processes. Despite the small signals relative to freshwater conditions, the imaginary part of the complex conductivity appears to be sensitive to biodegradation processes. The columns with highest salinity fluids - similar to the salinites for the site where the sediments were collected - showed distinctive complex conductivity responses similar to microbial growth curves. Geochemical monitoring confirmed elevated rates of hydrocarbon degradation in these two columns. Microbial monitoring confirmed the presence of hydrocarbon degraders; early results from molecular analysis of the column sediments suggests that the salinity of the supporting fluids favored the growth of different microbial communities.