A natural-gradient tracer test was conducted in an unconfined sand and gravel aquifer on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Molybdate was included in the injectate to study the effects of variable groundwater chemistry on its aqueous distribution and to evaluate the reliability of laboratory experiments for identifying and quantifying reactions that control the transport of reactive solutes in groundwater. Transport of molybdate in this aquifer was controlled by adsorption. The amount adsorbed varied with aqueous chemistry that changed with depth as freshwater recharge mixed with a plume of sewage-contaminated groundwater. Molybdate adsorption was strongest near the water table where pH (5.7) and the concentration of the competing solutes phosphate (2.3 micromolar) and sulfate (86 micromolar) were low. Adsorption of molybdate decreased with depth as pH increased to 6.5, phosphate increased to 40 micromolar, and sulfate increased to 340 micromolar. A one-site diffuse-layer surface-complexation model and a two-site diffuse-layer surface-complexation model were used to simulate adsorption. Reactions and equilibrium constants for both models were determined in laboratory experiments and used in the reactive-transport model PHAST to simulate the two-dimensional transport of molybdate during the tracer test. No geochemical parameters were adjusted in the simulation to improve the fit between model and field data. Both models simulated the travel distance of the molybdate cloud to within 10% during the 2-year tracer test; however, the two-site diffuse-layer model more accurately simulated the molybdate concentration distribution within the cloud.
Additional publication details
Molybdate transport in a chemically complex aquifer: Field measurements compared with solute-transport model predictions