Mixing-controlled biodegradation in a toluene plume - Results from two-dimensional laboratory experiments

Robert D. Bauer, Piotr Maloszewski, Yanchun Zhang, Rainer U. Meckenstock, Christian Griebler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations

Abstract

Various abiotic and biotic processes such as sorption, dilution, and degradation are known to affect the fate of organic contaminants, such as petroleum hydrocarbons in saturated porous media. Reactive transport modeling of such plumes indicates that the biodegradation of organic pollutants is, in many cases, controlled by mixing and therefore occurs locally at the plume's fringes, where electron donors and electron-acceptors mix. Herein, we aim to test whether this hypothesis can be verified by experimental results obtained from aerobic and anaerobic degradation experiments in two-dimensional sediment microcosms. Toluene was selected as a model compound for oxidizable contaminants. The two-dimensional microcosm was filled with quartz sand and operated under controlled flow conditions simulating a contaminant plume in otherwise uncontaminated groundwater. Aerobic degradation of toluene by Pseudomonas putida mt-2 reduced a continuous 8.7 mg L- 1 toluene concentration by 35% over a transport distance of 78 cm in 15.5 h. In comparison, under similar conditions Aromatoleum aromaticum strain EbN1 degraded 98% of the toluene infiltrated using nitrate (68.5 ± 6.2 mg L- 1) as electron acceptor. A major part of the biodegradation activity was located at the plume fringes and the slope of the electron-acceptor gradient was steeper during periods of active biodegradation. The distribution of toluene and the significant overlap of nitrate at the plume's fringe indicate that biokinetic and/or microscale transport processes may constitute additional limiting factors. Experimental data is corroborated with results from a reactive transport model using double Monod kinetics. The outcome of the study shows that in order to simulate degradation in contaminant plumes, detailed data sets are required to test the applicability of models. These will have to deal with the incorporation of existing parameters coding for substrate conversion kinetics and microbial growth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)150-168
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Volume96
Issue number1-4
DOIs
StatePublished - 19 Feb 2008
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • 2-D aquifer microcosm
  • Hydrocarbon plume
  • Reactive transport model
  • Toluene degradation
  • Transverse dispersion

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