Geostatistics as a tool to improve the natural background level definition: An application in groundwater

Sci Total Environ. 2017 Nov 15;598:330-340. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.04.018. Epub 2017 Apr 24.


The Natural Background Level (NBL), suggested by UE BRIDGE project, is suited for spatially distributed datasets providing a regional value that could be higher than the Threshold Value (TV) set by every country. In hydro-geochemically dis-homogeneous areas, the use of a unique regional NBL, higher than TV, could arise problems to distinguish between natural occurrences and anthropogenic contaminant sources. Hence, the goal of this study is to improve the NBL definition employing a geostatistical approach, which reconstructs the contaminant spatial structure accounting geochemical and hydrogeological relationships. This integrated mapping is fundamental to evaluate the contaminant's distribution impact on the NBL, giving indications to improve it. We decided to test this method on the Drainage Basin of Venice Lagoon (DBVL, NE Italy), where the existing NBL is seven times higher than the TV. This area is notoriously affected by naturally occurring arsenic contamination. An available geochemical dataset collected by 50 piezometers was used to reconstruct the spatial distribution of arsenic in the densely populated area of the DBVL. A cokriging approach was applied exploiting the geochemical relationships among As, Fe and NH4+. The obtained spatial predictions of arsenic concentrations were divided into three different zones: i) areas with an As concentration lower than the TV, ii) areas with an As concentration between the TV and the median of the values higher than the TV, and iii) areas with an As concentration higher than the median. Following the BRIDGE suggestions, where enough samples were available, the 90th percentile for each zone was calculated to obtain a local NBL (LNBL). Differently from the original NBL, this local value gives more detailed water quality information accounting the hydrogeological and geochemical setting, and contaminant spatial variation. Hence, the LNBL could give more indications about the distinction between natural occurrence and anthropogenic contamination.

Keywords: Arsenic and Drainage Basin to the Venice Lagoon (DBVL); Cokriging (COK); Local Natural Background Level (LNBL).