The scale of biogeochemical reactions was studied in a physically and chemically heterogeneous surficial Coastal Plain aquifer contaminated by a gasoline spill. The physical heterogeneity of the aquifer is manifested in two hydrologic units, a shallow local aquifer of perched water and a regional sandy aquifer. Over the studied vertical interval of 21.3 ft (6.5 m), concentrations of reactive species varied by orders of magnitude, and the impact of biodegradation was expressed to widely varying degrees. A thin (3 ft thick) section of the perched-water zone was the most contaminated; total aromatic hydrocarbons were as high as 19.4 mg/l. Hydrocarbons were degraded by microbially mediated reactions that varied over short vertical distances and time. Anaerobic processes dominated within the low-permeability clay unit, whereas in the more permeable sandy layers nitrate reduction and aerobic degradation occurred. Hydrocarbons were more persistent over time in the low-permeability layer due to the limited availability of electron acceptors for degradation. The microbial degradation of hydrocarbons was linked to sulfate and iron reduction in the clay unit and led to alterations in the aquifer solids; electron microscopy revealed the presence of FeS minerals encrusting primary aquifer grains. High concentrations of Fe2+ in groundwater, up to 34.5 mg/l, persist in kinetic disequilibrium in the presence of elevated H2S levels of 1.0 mg/l. Assessment of aquifer heterogeneities and groundwater contamination was possible due to sample discrimination at a scale of approximately 2 ft (∼0.6 m), a much finer resolution than is attempted in many remedial investigations of polluted aquifers. The information obtained in this type of study is essential to the development of models capable of estimating the fate of hydrocarbons at a site scale.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Geochemical heterogeneity of a gasoline-contaminated aquifer|
|Series title||Journal of Contaminant Hydrology|
|Contributing office(s)||Toxic Substances Hydrology Program|