The biogeochemistry at the interface between sediments in a seasonally ponded wetland (slough) and an alluvial aquifer contaminated with landfill leachate was investigated to evaluate factors that can effect natural attenuation of landfill leachate contaminants in areas of groundwater/surface-water interaction. The biogeochemistry at the wetland-alluvial aquifer interface differed greatly between dry and wet conditions. During dry conditions (low water table), vertically upward discharge was focused at the center of the slough from the fringe of a landfill-derived ammonium plume in the underlying aquifer, resulting in transport of relatively low concentrations of ammonium to the slough sediments with dilution and dispersion as the primary attenuation mechanism. In contrast, during wet conditions (high water table), leachate-contaminated groundwater discharged upward near the upgradient slough bank, where ammonium concentrations in the aquifer where high. Relatively high concentrations of ammonium and other leachate constituents also were transported laterally through the slough porewater to the downgradient bank in wet conditions. Concentrations of the leachate-associated constituents chloride, ammonium, non-volatile dissolved organic carbon, alkalinity, and ferrous iron more than doubled in the slough porewater on the upgradient bank during wet conditions. Chloride, non-volatile dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and bicarbonate acted conservatively during lateral transport in the aquifer and slough porewater, whereas ammonium and potassium were strongly attenuated. Nitrogen isotope variations in ammonium and the distribution of ammonium compared to other cations indicated that sorption was the primary attenuation mechanism for ammonium during lateral transport in the aquifer and the slough porewater. Ammonium attenuation was less efficient, however, in the slough porewater than in the aquifer and possibly occurred by a different sorption mechanism. A stoichiometrically balanced increase in magnesium concentration with decreasing ammonium and potassium concentrations indicated that cation exchange was the sorption mechanism in the slough porewater. Only a partial mass balance could be determined for cations exchanged for ammonium and potassium in the aquifer, indicating that some irreversible sorption may be occurring. Although wetlands commonly are expected to decrease fluxes of contaminants in riparian environments, enhanced attenuation of the leachate contaminants in the slough sediment porewater compared to the aquifer was not observed in this study. The lack of enhanced attenuation can be attributed to the fact that the anoxic plume, comprised largely of recalcitrant DOC and reduced inorganic constituents, interacted with anoxic slough sediments and porewaters, rather than encountering a change in redox conditions that could cause transformation reactions. Nevertheless, the attenuation processes in the narrow zone of groundwater/surface-water interaction were effective in reducing ammonium concentrations by a factor of about 3 during lateral transport across the slough and by a factor of 2 to 10 before release to the surface water. Slough porewater geochemistry also indicated that the slough could be a source of sulfate in dry conditions, potentially providing a terminal electron acceptor for natural attenuation of organic compounds in the leachate plume.
Additional publication details
Biogeochemistry at a wetland sediment-alluvial aquifer interface in a landfill leachate plume