Fuel spills, totaling about 1300 m3, occurred between 1976 and 1978 adjacent to Imikpuk Lake, a drinking water source near Barrow, AK. Substantial contamination of soils and groundwater near the lake persists. We examined the magnitude and direction of groundwater flux and the microbial activity at this site to understand the persistence of contamination and its effect on the lake. We found that groundwater flux is small due to shallow permafrost, which restricts the cross-sectional area available for flow, and to the short annual thaw season (ca. 90 days). The small flux and limited depth also constrain contaminant transport and dispersion, resulting in persistent, shallow contamination. The numbers of hydrocarbon-oxidizing microorganisms and their laboratory mineralization potentials for benzene (at 10 ??C) were higher in samples from contaminated areas than in reference samples. Benzene mineralization potentials in groundwater samples were comparable to more temperate systems (0.1-0.5 mg of benzene mineralized L-1 day-1) and were stimulated by nutrient additions. Field measurements of dissolved oxygen, nitrate, ferrous iron, and sulfide in groundwater provided evidence that biodegradation of petroleum hydrocarbons is occurring in situ. Despite evidence of an active microbial population, microbial processes, like contaminant transport, are likely limited at this site by the short annual thaw season.
Additional publication details
Hydrologic and microbiological factors affecting persistence and migration of petroleum hydrocarbons spilled in a continuous-permafrost region