Groundwater-quality assessment at contaminated sites often involves the use of short-screen (1.5 to 3 m) monitoring wells. However, even over these intervals considerable variation may occur in contaminant concentrations in groundwater adjacent to the well screen. This is especially true in heterogeneous dense non-aqueous phase liquid (DNAPL) source zones, where cm-scale contamination variability may call into question the effectiveness of monitoring wells to deliver representative data. The utility of monitoring wells in such settings is evaluated by reference to high-resolution multilevel sampler (MLS) wells located proximally to short-screen wells, together with sampling capture-zone modelling to explore controls upon well sample provenance and sensitivity to monitoring protocols. Field data are analysed from the highly instrumented SABRE research site that contained an old trichloroethene source zone within a shallow alluvial aquifer at a UK industrial facility. With increased purging, monitoring-well samples tend to a flow-weighted average concentration but may exhibit sensitivity to the implemented protocol and degree of purging. Formation heterogeneity adjacent to the well-screen particularly, alongside pump-intake position and water level, influence this sensitivity. Purging of low volumes is vulnerable to poor reproducibility arising from concentration variability predicted over the initial 1 to 2 screen volumes purged. Marked heterogeneity may also result in limited long-term sample concentration stabilization. Development of bespoke monitoring protocols, that consider screen volumes purged, alongside water-quality indicator parameter stabilization, is recommended to validate and reduce uncertainty when interpreting monitoring-well data within source zone areas. Generalised recommendations on monitoring well based protocols are also developed. A key monitoring well utility is their proportionately greater sample draw from permeable horizons constituting a significant contaminant flux pathway and hence representative fraction of source mass flux. Acquisition of complementary, high-resolution, site monitoring data, however, vitally underpins optimal interpretation of monitoring-well datasets and appropriate advancement of a site conceptual model and remedial implementation.
- flow-weighted average (FWA) concentration
- groundwater quality
- groundwater sampling
- low-flow sampling
- monitoring wells