Quantification of contaminant mass discharge from point sources in aquitard/aquifer systems based on vertical concentration profiles and 3D modeling

Klaus Mosthaf*, Louise Rosenberg, Mette M. Broholm, Annika S. Fjordbøge, Gro Lilbæk, Anders G. Christensen, Poul L. Bjerg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Point sources with contaminants, such as chlorinated solvents, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), or pesticides, are often located in low-permeability aquitards, where they can act as long-term sources and threaten underlying groundwater resources. We demonstrate the use of a 3D numerical model integrating comprehensive hydrogeological and contamination data to determine the contaminant mass discharge (CMD) from an aquitard into the underlying aquifer. A mature point source with a dissolved chlorinated solvent in a clayey till is used as an example. The quantitative determination is facilitated by model calibration to high-resolution vertical concentration profiles obtained by direct-push sampling techniques in the aquifer downgradient of the contaminant source zone. The concentration profiles showed a plume sinking with distance from the source characteristic for such aquitard/aquifer settings. The sinking is caused by the interplay between infiltrating water and horizontal groundwater flow. The application of 3D solute transport modeling on high-resolution profiles allowed for determining the infiltration rate, the hydraulic conductivity in the aquitard, and, ultimately, the CMD. Different source zone conceptualizations demonstrate the potential effects of fractures and sorption in source zones in aquitards on CMD development. Fractures in the aquitard had a minor influence on the current CMD determined with the presented approach. Still, fractures with hydraulic apertures larger than 10 μm were crucial for the temporal development of the CMD and plume. A thorough characterization of the source zone conditions combined with high-resolution concentration profiles and detailed modeling is valuable for shedding light on the probable future development of groundwater contamination arising from sources in aquitard/aquifer settings and evaluating remedial actions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104281
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • Contaminant mass discharge
  • Flow and transport modeling
  • Fractures
  • Groundwater
  • Low-permeability source
  • Depth-discrete concentration profiles


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