One-at-a-time sensitivity analysis of pollutant loadings to subsurface properties for the assessment of soil and groundwater pollution potential

  • Soonyoung Yu
  • Seong-Taek Yun
  • Sang-Il Hwang
  • Gitak ChaeEmail author
Research Article


Chemical leak was numerically simulated for four chemical substances: benzene (light non-aqueous phase liquid (NAPL)), tetrachloroethylene (dense NAPL), phenol (soluble in water), and pentachlorophenol (white crystalline solid) in a hypothetical subsurface leak situation using a multiphase compositional transport model. One metric ton of chemical substances was assumed to leak at a point 3.51 m above the water table in a homogeneous unconfined aquifer which had the depth to water table of 7.135 m, the hydraulic gradient of 0.00097, the recharge rate of 0.7 mm/day, and the permeability of 2.92 × 10−10 m2. For comparison, surface spill scenarios, which had a long pathway from source to the water table, were simulated. Using the model results, point-source pollutant loadings to soil and groundwater were calculated by multiplying mass, impact area, and duration above and below the water table respectively. Their sensitivity to subsurface properties (depth to water table, recharge rate, porosity, organic carbon content, decay rate, hydraulic gradient, capillary pressure, relative permeability, permeability) was analyzed, with changing each parameter within acceptable ranges. The study result showed that the pollutant loading to groundwater was more sensitive to the subsurface properties than the pollutant loading to soil. Decay rate, groundwater depth, hydraulic gradient and porosity were influential to pollutant loadings. The impact of influential parameters on pollutant loadings was nonlinear. The dominant subsurface properties of pollution loadings (e.g., decay rate, groundwater depth, hydraulic gradient, and porosity for groundwater) also affect the vulnerability, and the subsurface pollutant loadings defined in this study are dependent on chemical properties as well, which indicates that the influential hydrogeological and physicochemical parameters to pollutant loadings can be used for pollution potential assessment. The contribution of this work is the suggestion that the sensitivity of pollutant loadings can be used for pollution potential assessment. Soil and groundwater pollution potential of chemicals are discussed altogether for leak scenarios. A physics-based model is used to understand the impact of subsurface properties on the fate and transport of chemicals above and below the water table, and consequently their impact on the pollutant loading to soil and groundwater.


Pollutant loading Vulnerability Subsurface properties Pollution potential Sensitivity analysis 



We highly appreciate the anonymous reviewers’ time and comments to improve this manuscript.

Funding information

This subject was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Korea government (MSIP) (No. 2015R1C1A1A01052036) and partially supported by Korea Ministry of Environment (MOE) as “K-COSEM” Research Program.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Soonyoung Yu
    • 1
  • Seong-Taek Yun
    • 3
  • Sang-Il Hwang
    • 2
  • Gitak Chae
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Korea-CO2 Storage Environmental Management (K-COSEM) Research CenterKorea UniversitySeoulSouth Korea
  2. 2.Korea Environment InstituteSejongSouth Korea
  3. 3.Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and K-COSEM Research CenterKorea UniversitySeoulSouth Korea
  4. 4.Korean Institute of Geoscience and Mineral ResourcesDeajeonSouth Korea

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