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Subsurface fate of spilled petroleum hydrocarbons in continuous permafrost

January 1, 2004

Accidental releases of approximately 2000 m3 of fuel have resulted in subsurface contamination adjacent to Imikpuk Lake, a drinking-water source near Barrow, AK. This paper presents a conceptual model of the distribution and transport of subsurface free-phase hydrocarbons at this site. The mean annual temperature in Barrow is -13 ??C, and average monthly temperatures exceed 0 ??C only during the months of June, July, and August. As a result, the region is underlain by areally continuous permafrost that extends to depths of up to 300 m and constrains subsurface hydrologic processes to a shallow zone that temporarily thaws each summer. During the 1993 and 1994 thaw seasons, the measured depth of thaw varied across the site from approximately 0.5 to 2 m. However, exploratory borings in 1995 showed that free-phase hydrocarbons were present at depths greater than 3 m, indicating that permafrost at this site is not a barrier to the vertical migration of nonaqueous-phase liquids. In 1996, a subsurface containment barrier was installed to prevent lateral movement of contaminated water to Imikpuk Lake, and a recovery trench was excavated upgradient of the barrier to facilitate removal of free-phase hydrocarbons. Free-phase hydrocarbons were recovered from the trench during 1996, 1997, and 1998. Recovery rates diminished over this time, and in 1999, no further product was recovered and the recovery operation was halted. Subsequent exploratory borings in 2001 and 2002 have revealed that some product remains in the subsurface. Data indicate that this remaining product exists in small discrete pockets or very thin layers of hydrocarbon floating on brine. These small reservoirs appear to be isolated from one another by relatively impermeable permafrost. Published by Elsevier B.V.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2004
Title Subsurface fate of spilled petroleum hydrocarbons in continuous permafrost
DOI 10.1016/S0165-232X(03)00062-4
Authors K. McCarthy, L. Walker, L. Vigoren
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Cold Regions Science and Technology
Series Number
Index ID 70027109
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization