Viruses are attractive tracers of short (<3 year) travel times in aquifers because they have unique genetic signatures, are detectable in trace quantities, and are mobile in groundwater. Virus “snaphots” result from infection and disappearance in a population over time; therefore, the virus snapshot shed in the fecal wastes of an infected population at a specific point in time can serve as a marker for tracking virus and groundwater movement. The virus tracing approach and an example application are described to illustrate their ability to characterize travel times in high-groundwater velocity settings, and provide insight unavailable from standard hydrogeologic approaches. Although characterization of preferential flowpaths does not usually characterize the majority of other travel times occurring in the groundwater system (e.g., center of plume mass; tail of the breakthrough curve), virus approaches can trace very short times of transport, and thus can fill an important gap in our current hydrogeology toolbox.
Additional publication details
Viruses as groundwater tracers: using ecohydrology to characterize short travel times in aquifers