Commingled Plumes

Nov 13, 2020

Environmental Enlightenment #185

Plume can mean various things.

The word comes from Latin pluma, meaning small soft feather.

Here are some eagle plumes.

A plume is also a feather or bunch of feathers worn as an ornament or a mark of rank

(Picture courtesy of Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System)

Or, a form that is like a long feather

In our environmental lingo, a plume is a space in air, water, or soil that contains pollutants released from a point source.

The diagram below illustrates a plume of contaminants released from a point source at ground level migrating downwards to groundwater and carried downstream. See how the plume segregates into three phases: liquid, vapor and dissolved particles.

The figures that follow were borrowed with permission from materials of GORE Surveys, a product and service provided by W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc. (now provided by Amplified Geochemical Imaging, LLC).

The colored shapes represent two plumes of contaminants in the groundwater originating from two distinctly separate point sources; the “hot” red cores being the likely points of release.

The vertical scale of colors represents the intensity of the contaminant levels, from the low level blue to the ultra high level violet.

The plumes reduce in intensity with distance from the center.

Commingled Plume is the condition that exists where contamination from two or more discrete releases have mixed or encroached upon one another.

You can see here two different discharges to the groundwater where the spreading plumes have met and mingled.

The situation at the right is even more compounded with the commingling of 10 primal plumes.

Before one attempts remediation of a contamination case, and where more than one point source is the cause, it is essential to gain complete understanding of the origins of the various plumes.

Engaging in remediation without such understanding may prove costly at best and futile at worst, because one may end up pulling plumes all over the place and complicating the remedial effort to no end.

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