Characterization of the reactivity of riverine heterogeneous sediments using a facies-based approach; the Rhine-Meuse delta (The Netherlands)

P.J. van Helvoort, J. Griffioen, N. Hartog

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Large groundwater resources are found in densely populated lowland areas, which consist often of young unconsolidated and reduced sediments. When anthropogenic activities lead to oxygenation of the aquifer, breakdown of the main reduced fractions, i.e. sedimentary organic matter (SOM) and pyrite, could lead to severe groundwater deterioration such as acidification, heavy metal mobilization, and increased hardness. The characterization of the reactive properties of these sediments is important in predicting groundwater deterioration, but is often complicated by the high degree of heterogeneity of these sediments. In this study, the potential reduction capacity (PRC, based on SOM and pyrite content), the potential buffer capacity (PBC, based on carbonate content), potential acidification capacity (PAC, based on the potential acid production by sulfide oxidation), and the measured reduction capacity (MRC) of five facies, which are typical of the riverine sediments in the Rhine-Meuse delta (The Netherlands) were determined. A universal facies-classification model was used to classify the deposits into more homogeneous sub-units based on lithologic and geogenic properties, with a further sub-division into oxic or anoxic redox environment based upon groundwater data and field observations. The bulk chemical data show strong variation across facies for the median values of PRC (186-9093 mmol O-2 kg(-1)), PBC (17-132 mmol O-2 kg(-1)), and PAC (36-1530 mmol H+ kg(-1)). The MRC was measured as reactivity to molecular O-2 exposure and was 0.5-567.3 mmol O-2 kg(-1). Steady-state oxidation rates were in the wide range of 0.001-10.355 mmol O-2 kg(-1) day(-1) but were typically about 3-8 times faster in fine facies than in coarse facies. Both the PRC and MRC depend strongly on grain size, but also on the syn/post-depositional environment and redox conditions. The main part of the PRC consists of SOM, but pyrite reactivity is higher than SOM reactivity as shown by the relative depletion of pyrite in oxic subfacies and the preferential oxidation during the oxidation experiments. Some facies are very prone to acidification because the PAC is higher than the PBC, but the oxidation experiments also show that acidification could already start before the PRC is fully exhausted. This study, is one of the few that combines bulk chemical data, groundwater data, and reactivity measurements and shows that a facies-based approach is a practical tool in characterizing the reactivity of heterogeneous deposits. (c) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2735-2757
JournalApplied Geochemistry
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • holocene avulsion history
  • complex confining layer
  • pyrite oxidation
  • organic-matter
  • aquifer sediments
  • sulfide oxidation
  • groundwater-flow
  • hydraulic conductivity
  • calcite dissolution
  • marine-sediments

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