Saline pulse test monitoring with the self-potential method to nonintrusively determine the velocity of the pore water in leaking areas of earth dams and embankments



[1] A method is proposed to localize preferential fluid flow pathways in porous media on the basis of time-lapse self-potential measurements associated with salt tracer injection upstream. This method is first tested using laboratory data. A network of nonpolarizing electrodes located is connected to a highly sensitive voltmeter used to record the resulting electrical field fluctuations occurring over time at the surface of the tank. The transport of the conductive salt plume through the permeable porous materials changes the localized streaming potential coupling coefficient associated with the advective drag of the excess charge of the pore water and is also responsible for a diffusion current associated with the salinity gradient. Monitoring of the electrical potential distribution at the ground surface can be used to localize the pulse of saline water over time and to determine its velocity. This method applies in real time and can be used to track highly localized flow pathways characterized by high permeability. Our sandbox experiment demonstrates the applicability of this new method under well-controlled conditions with a coarse-sand channel embedded between fine-sand banks. A finite element model allows us to reproduce the time-lapse electrical potential distribution over the channel, but some discrepancies were observed on the banks. Finally, we performed a numerical simulation for a synthetic case study inspired by a recently published field case study. A Markov chain Monte Carlo sampler is used to determine the permeability and the porosity of the preferential fluid flow pathway of this synthetic case study.