The suitability of common-offset ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to detect free-phase hydrocarbons in bedrock fractures was evaluated using numerical modeling and physical experiments. The results of one- and two-dimensional numerical modeling at 100 megahertz indicate that GPR reflection amplitudes are relatively insensitive to fracture apertures ranging from 1 to 4 mm. The numerical modeling and physical experiments indicate that differences in the fluids that fill fractures significantly affect the amplitude and the polarity of electromagnetic waves reflected by subhorizontal fractures. Air-filled and hydrocarbon-filled fractures generate low-amplitude reflections that are in-phase with the transmitted pulse. Water-filled fractures create reflections with greater amplitude and opposite polarity than those reflections created by air-filled or hydrocarbon-filled fractures.The results from the numerical modeling and physical experiments demonstrate it is possible to distinguish water-filled fracture reflections from air- or hydrocarbon-filled fracture reflections, nevertheless subsurface heterogeneity, antenna coupling changes, and other sources of noise will likely make it difficult to observe these changes in GPR field data. This indicates that the routine application of common-offset GPR reflection methods for detection of hydrocarbon-filled fractures will be problematic. Ideal cases will require appropriately processed, high-quality GPR data, ground-truth information, and detailed knowledge of subsurface physical properties. Conversely, the sensitivity of GPR methods to changes in subsurface physical properties as demonstrated by the numerical and experimental results suggests the potential of using GPR methods as a monitoring tool. GPR methods may be suited for monitoring pumping and tracer tests, changes in site hydrologic conditions, and remediation activities.
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