• Groundwater dynamics in degrading, discontinuous permafrost

      Barnes, Michelle L.; Barnes, David L.; Shur, Yuri L.; Schnabel, William E.; Leigh, Mary Beth (2014-12)
      In regions impacted by permafrost, discontinuities are areas of possible connection between the supra- and sub-permafrost portions of an aquifer. Permafrost discontinuities influence the transport of contaminants in an aquifer, necessitating delineation of these discontinuities and their influence on groundwater flow. Means of identifying the locations of permafrost discontinuities have previously been limited to geophysical methods and the evaluation of well logs. In this study we use groundwater elevation trends and environmental tracers (e.g., stable isotopes and temperature) to evaluate the dynamics in a sulfolane-contaminated aquifer located in a region of discontinuous permafrost in the Interior of Alaska. Using tracers to identify areas of discontinuities in the permafrost should help us locate thawed through-taliks and may also improve our understanding of the interaction between the supra- and sub-permafrost groundwater in discontinuous permafrost. With this approach we identified at least three discontinuities within the study area. The locations of these discontinuities coincide with transport of the contaminant found in this aquifer. The primary source of recharge for this aquifer is the Tanana River, a major tributary to the Yukon River. The source of water for the Tanana River is glacial melt in the summer and groundwater during the winter. Through the isotopic composition of the supra-permafrost groundwater we show the occurrence of additional recharge to the supra-permafrost groundwater from sub-permafrost groundwater and precipitation. Understanding these dynamics is paramount to characterizing the contaminant transport in permafrost impacted aquifers.