Dissolved helium and bromide tracers were used to evaluate trapped gas during an infiltration pond experiment. Dissolved helium preferentially partitioned into trapped gas bubbles, or other pore air, because of its low solubility in water. This produced observed helium retardation factors of as much as 12 relative to bromide. Numerical simulations of helium breakthrough with both equilibrium and kinetically limited advection/dispersion/retardation did not match observed helium concentrations. However, better fits were obtained by including a decay term representing the diffusive loss of helium through interconnected, gas-filled pores. Calculations indicate that 7% to more than 26% of the porosity beneath the pond was filled with gas. Measurements of laboratory hydraulic properties indicate that a 10% decrease in saturation would reduce the hydraulic conductivity by at least one order of magnitude in the well-sorted sandstone, but less in the overlying soils. This is consistent with in situ measurements during the experiment, which show steeper hydraulic gradients in sandstone than in soil. Intrinsic permeability of the soil doubled during the first six months of the experiment, likely caused by a combination of dissolution and thermal contraction of trapped gas. Managers of artificial recharge basins may consider minimizing the amount of trapped gas by using wet, rather than dry, tilling to optimize infiltration rates, particularly in well-sorted porous media in which reintroduced trapped gas may cause substantial reductions in permeability. Trapped gas may also inhibit the amount of focused infiltration that occurs naturally during ephemeral flood events along washes and playas.
Additional publication details
Gas-partitioning tracer test to quantify trapped gas during recharge