A New Kind of Single-Well Tracer Test for Assessing Subsurface Heterogeneity

S. K. Hansen, V. V. Vesselinov, Z. Lu, P. W. Reimus, D. Katzman

Research output: Contribution to journalMeeting Abstract


Single-well injection-withdrawal (SWIW) tracer tests have historically been interpreted using the idealized assumption of tracer path reversibility (i.e., negligible background flow), with background flow due to natural hydraulic gradient being an un-modeled confounding factor. However, we have recently discovered that it is possible to use background flow to our advantage to extract additional information about the subsurface. To wit: we have developed a new kind of single-well tracer test that exploits flow due to natural gradient to estimate the variance of the log hydraulic conductivity field of a heterogeneous aquifer. The test methodology involves injection under forced gradient and withdrawal under natural gradient, and makes use of a relationship, discovered using a large-scale Monte Carlo study and machine learning techniques, between power law breakthrough curve tail exponent and log-hydraulic conductivity variance. We will discuss how we performed the computational study and derived this relationship and then show an application example in which our new single-well tracer test interpretation scheme was applied to estimation of heterogeneity of a formation at the chromium contamination site at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Detailed core hole records exist at the same site, from which it was possible to estimate the log hydraulic conductivity variance using a Kozeny-Carman relation. The variances estimated using our new tracer test methodology and estimated by direct inspection of core were nearly identical, corroborating the new methodology. Assessment of aquifer heterogeneity is of critical importance to deployment of amendments associated with in-situ remediation strategies, since permeability contrasts potentially reduce the interaction between amendment and contaminant. Our new tracer test provides an easy way to obtain this information.
Original languageEnglish GB
JournalGeophysical Research Abstracts
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • 1805 Computational hydrology
  • 1829 Groundwater hydrology
  • 1832 Groundwater transport
  • 1835 Hydrogeophysics


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