Research article

Environmental Geology

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 257-269

First online:

Characterization of natural colloids from a river and spring in a karstic basin

  • O. AtteiaAffiliated withCentre d'Hydrogéologie de Neuchâtel, Neuchâtel University, 11 rue Emile-Argand, 2007 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
  • , D. PerretAffiliated withInstitut de Chimie Minérale et Analytique, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
  • , T. AdatteAffiliated withInstitut de Géologie, Neuchâtel University, 11 rue Emile-Argand, 2007 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
  • , R. KozelAffiliated withCentre d'Hydrogéologie de Neuchâtel, Neuchâtel University, 11 rue Emile-Argand, 2007 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
  • , P. RossiAffiliated withLaboratoire de Microbiologie, Neuchâtel University, 9 rue Emile-Argand, 2007 Neuchâtel, Switzerland

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 Colloids are known to transport contaminants over long distances in natural media. Despite this potentially harmful effect, very few studies have been undertaken in subsurface aquifers. This paper presents the first results of a study of natural colloids and particles in a karstic aquifer. The site was chosen for its coverage by clay layers and peat which deliver various and numerous particle types in water. The methodological part describes three methods used for size determination and sample fractionation of surface water and spring water. These methods have been adapted for the treatment of multiple samples due to the rapid discharge variation typical of karstic aquifers. The analysis of many particle size distributions (PSD) shows that they can be described by a Pareto law. The variation of the slope of the PSD at the spring is mainly dependent on discharge. This behavior is interpreted as a washing of the karstic drains during the first phase of high flow events. Fractionation of the samples allowed application of various characterization techniques to particle size classes. X-ray diffraction (XRD) patterns showed that most of the mineral particles originated from Quaternary deposits and limestones. However the use of scanning electron micrsocopy with energy-dispersive spectrometer (SEM-EDS) detailed the composition of individual particles and revealed particles not found by XRD. These techniques also showed the high complexity of the natural particles and the important place of coprecipitation in their formation. Consequences on the fluxes of particulate matter and its potential role as a carrier of contaminants are discussed.

Key words Colloids Particle size distribution Karstic aquifer Analytical techniques Bacteria