A fractured-granite aquifer at White Sands Missile Range is contaminated with the explosive compound RDX, nitrate, and perchlorate (oxidizer associated with rocket propellant) from the previous use of the Open Burn/Open Detonation site at the Hazardous Test Area. RDX, nitrate, and perchlorate
ground-water concentrations were analyzed to examine source characteristics, spatial and temporal variability, and the influence of the natural attenuation processes of dilution and degradation in the Hazardous Test Area fractured-granite aquifer. Two transects of ground-water wells from the existing monitoring-site network - one perpendicular to ground-water flow (transect A-A') and another parallel to ground-water flow (transect B-B') - were selected to examine source characteristics and the spatial and temporal variability of the contaminant concentrations. Ground-water samples collected in 2005 from a larger sampling of monitoring sites than the two transects were analyzed for various tracers including major ions, trace elements, RDX degradates, dissolved gases, water isotopes, nitrate isotopes, and sulfate isotopes to examine the natural attenuation processes of dilution and degradation.
Recharge entrains contaminants at the site and transports them downgradient towards the Tularosa Basin floor through a poorly connected fracture system(s). From 1996 to 2006, RDX, nitrate, and perchlorate concentrations in ground water downgradient from the Open Burn/Open Detonation site have been relatively stable. RDX, nitrate, and perchlorate in ground water from wells near the site indicate dispersed contaminant sources in and near the Open Burn/Open Detonation pits. The sources of RDX and nitrate in the pit area have shifted with time, and the shift correlates with the regrading of the south and east berms of each pit in 2002 and 2003 following closure of the site. The largest RDX concentrations were in ground water about 0.1 mile downgradient from the pits, the largest perchlorate concentrations were in ground water about 0.15 mile downgradient from the pits, and the largest nitrate concentrations were in ground water about 0.25 mile down-gradient from the pits. Strong and moderate correlation of water level and the contaminant concentrations near the source areas and low correlation outside and downgradient from the source areas indicates a diminishing of the water level/contaminant relation with downgradient flow.
Ground water was not progressively older at all locations downgradient from the Open Burn/Open Detonation site indicating multiple recharge areas. Major ion and strontium concentrations and d2H and d18O values identified similar sources of recharge waters comprising the aquifer except along the basin periphery where recharge water may be influenced by dissolution of mineral assemblages associated with ore deposits that are present along the basin margins. Ground-water ages, dissolved-solids concentrations, and calcium-strontium concentrations indicate limited or partial connectivity between fractures and contributions of uncontaminated recharge water downgradient from the site that dilutes contaminant concentrations. Changes in RDX and nitrate concentration patterns, the presence of methane, changes in carbon dioxide concentrations and d15N and d34S values, and variable reduction-oxidation conditions suggest degradation of contaminants in the downgradient direction. Estimated values of electron potential were assigned to ground water collected in October 2005 from all monitoring sites at the Hazardous Test Area. Moderate to strong reducing conditions were present upgradient from the Open Burn/Open Detonation site, at the site, and at various locations downgradient from the site, but the aquifer contained well-oxygenated water between many of the reducing areas. The spatial variability of reduction-oxidation conditions in the aquifer exemplifies the partial connectivity of the fracture system(s). Dilution of the contaminants i
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Geochemical Trends and Natural Attenuation of RDX, Nitrate, and Perchlorate in the Hazardous Test Area Fractured-Granite Aquifer, White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, 1996-2006