Preliminary indications from atomic force microscopy of the presence of rapidly-formed nanoscale films on aquifer material surfaces

Claudia Gaebel, Jamie R. Lead, Joanna C. Renshaw, John H. Tellam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


The objective of this study was to determine if there is a nanoscale surface film on aquifer-like materials exposed to deep groundwaters, as has previously been found on surfaces exposed to surface and soil waters. Such surface films will modify surface properties that are so important in determining the mobility of many groundwater pollutants. Muscovite mica was used because a) it is a good analogue for the main sorbing phases of many clastic aquifers and b) its cleavage planes are atomically flat allowing high resolution imaging. Freshly-cleaved muscovite plates were exposed to groundwater from a sandstone aquifer for 30 min, and surface properties (morphology, coverage, roughness and tip-substrate force interactions) were measured using atomic force microscopy (AFM). A patchy surface film of several nanometres in depth, incorporating larger separate particles, was found on the mica surface. This film was associated with significantly increased roughness values and AFM probe-sample interaction forces compared with pure water and inorganic (synthetic groundwater) solution controls. Although the results reported are preliminary in nature, if confirmed, such films are likely to affect sorption reactions, surface-facilitated redox interactions, non-aqueous phase liquid wetting angles, and colloid-pathogen-rock attachment, and will thus be of importance in understanding natural attenuation and migration of dissolved, non-aqueous and particulate phases in groundwaters. 

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-53
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 11 Aug 2009


  • colloids
  • force microscopy
  • groundwater
  • sorption
  • surface films
  • aquifer-like materials
  • nanoscale surface film
  • mobility
  • groundwater pollutants


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