Characterizing Physical Properties of Streambed Interface Sediments Using In Situ Complex Electrical Conductivity Measurements

Chen Wang, Martin A. Briggs, Frederick D. Day-Lewis, Lee D. Slater

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Streambed sediment physical properties such as surface area, are difficult to quantify in situ but exert a high-level control on a wide range of biogeochemical processes and sorption of contaminants. We introduce the use of complex electrical conductivity (CC) methods (also known as spectral-induced polarization (SIP)) that measure both real and imaginary conductivity to noninvasively and efficiently characterize shallow streambed sediments. We explore the method through synthetic modeling, laboratory, and field measurements to demonstrate the sensitivity of imaginary conductivity to sediment surface area, controlled in part by fine-grained iron oxides produced by anoxic groundwater discharge. Laboratory measurements verify expected relationships between CC parameters and sediment properties. Synthetic modeling using a 1D analytical model illustrates the influence of water layer depth and conductivity on the field CC measurements made at the streambed-stream water interface. Specifically, the inverted sediment imaginary conductivity is less impacted by uncertainty in the water layer depth and conductivity relative to the real conductivity and phase shift. Field CC measurements along a landfill-impacted river reveal discrete streambed zones with enhanced bulk surface area generally corresponding to anoxic groundwater discharge zones with high concentrations of fine-grained iron oxide precipitates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020WR027995
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


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