A multidisciplinary study of a crude-oil contaminated aquifer shows that the distribution of microbial physiologic types is strongly controlled by the aquifer properties and crude oil location. The microbial populations of four physiologic types were analyzed together with permeability, pore-water chemistry, nonaqueous oil content, and extractable sediment iron. Microbial data from three vertical profiles through the anaerobic portion of the contaminated aquifer clearly show areas that have progressed from iron-reduction to methanogenesis. These locations contain lower numbers of iron reducers, and increased numbers of fermenters with detectable methanogens. Methanogenic conditions exist both in the area contaminated by nonaqueous oil and also below the oil where high hydrocarbon concentrations correspond to local increases in aquifer permeability. The results indicate that high contaminant flux either from local dissolution or by advective transport plays a key role in determining which areas first become methanogenic. Other factors besides flux that are important include the sediment Fe(II) content and proximity to the water table. In locations near a seasonally oscillating water table, methanogenic conditions exist only below the lowest typical water table elevation. During 20 years since the oil spill occurred, a laterally continuous methanogenic zone has developed along a narrow horizon extending from the source area to 50-60 m downgradient. A companion paper [J. Contam. Hydrol. 53, 369-386] documents how the growth of the methanogenic zone results in expansion of the aquifer volume contaminated with the highest concentrations of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes. Copyright ?? 2001 Elsevier Science B.V.
Additional publication details
Progression of natural attenuation processes at a crude oil spill site: II. Controls on spatial distribution of microbial populations