Image_3_Null-Space Monte Carlo Particle Backtracking to Identify Groundwater Tetrachloroethylene Sources.JPEG (1.82 MB)

Image_3_Null-Space Monte Carlo Particle Backtracking to Identify Groundwater Tetrachloroethylene Sources.JPEG

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posted on 25.09.2020 by Loris Colombo, Luca Alberti, Pietro Mazzon, Matteo Antelmi

Groundwater in most urban areas around the globe is often contaminated by toxic substances. Among the various sources of contamination, industries cause the heaviest impact when toxic compounds are released underground, mainly through leaking tanks or pipelines. Some contaminants (typically chlorinated hydrocarbons) tend to persist within the underground and are hard to biodegrade. As a result, substances that leaked decades ago are still impacting groundwater. Milano and its surroundings (Functional Urban Area) is a good example of an area that has been hosting industries of all dimensions for over a century, many of them contributing to groundwater contamination from chlorinated hydrocarbons. While the position of the biggest industrial facilities is well-known, many smaller sources are hard to identify in many cases where direct surveys have not been undertaken. Furthermore, the overlapping effects of big, small, known, and unknown sources of groundwater contamination make it challenging to identify the contribution of each. In order to identify the contribution of several point sources responsible for tetrachloroethylene contamination in public water supply wells, a numerical model (MODFLOW-2005) has been implemented and calibrated using PEST in the northwestern portion of the Milano Functional Urban Area. In contaminant transport modeling, the deterministic approach is still favored over the stochastic approach because of the simplicity of its application. Nevertheless, the latter is considered by the authors as the most suitable for dealing with problems characterized by high uncertainty, such as hydrogeological parameter distributions. Adopting a Null-Space Monte Carlo analysis, 400 different sets of hydraulic conductivity fields were randomly generated of which only 336 were selected using an objective function threshold. Subsequently, particle backtracking was performed for each of the accepted hydraulic conductivity fields, by placing particles in a contaminated well. The number of particle passages is considered as being proportional to the contribution of each unknown point source to the tetrachloroethylene contamination identified in the target well. The study provides a methodology to help public authorities to locate the “more probable than not” area responsible for the tetrachloroethylene contamination detected in groundwater and to focus environmental investigations in specific sectors of Milano.

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