Analysis of a gas-phase partitioning tracer test conducted in an unsaturated fractured-clay formation

Michelle A. Simon, Mark L. Brusseau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The gas-phase partitioning tracer method was used to estimate non-aqueous phase liquid (NAPL), water, and air saturations in the vadose zone at a chlorinated-solvent contaminated field site in Tucson, AZ. The tracer test was conducted in a fractured-clay system that is the confining layer for the underlying regional aquifer. Three suites of three tracers were injected into wells located 14, 24, and 24 m from a single, central extraction well. The tracers comprised noble gases (traditionally thought to be nonsorbing), alkanes (primarily water partitioning), perfluorides (primarily NAPL partitioning), and halons (both NAPL and water partitioning). Observations of vacuum response were consistent with flow in a fractured system. The halon tracers exhibited the greatest amount of retardation, and helium and the perfluoride tracers the least. The alkane tracers were unexpectedly more retarded than the perfluoride tracers, indicating low NAPL saturations and high water saturations. An NAPL saturation of 0.01, water saturation of 0.215, and gas saturation of 0.775 was estimated based on analysis of the suite of tracers comprising helium, perfluoromethylcyclohexane and dibromodifluoromethane, which was considered to be the most robust set. The estimated saturations compare reasonably well to independently determined values.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)146-158
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Mar 20 2007


  • Alkane
  • Breakthrough curves
  • Capillary fringe
  • Clay
  • Fracture
  • Gas phase
  • Halon
  • Helium
  • NAPL saturation
  • Noble gas
  • Partitioning tracer
  • Perfluoride
  • Unsaturated
  • Vadose zone
  • Water content

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology


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