Biodegradation of contaminants can increase the temperature in the subsurface due to heat generated from exothermic reactions, making temperature observations a potentially low-cost approach for determining microbial activity. For this technique to gain more widespread acceptance, it is necessary to better understand all the factors affecting the measured temperatures. Biodegradation has been occurring at a crude oil-contaminated site near Bemidji, Minnesota for 39 years, creating a quasi-steady-state plume of contaminants and degradation products. A model of subsurface heat generation and transport helps elucidate the contribution of microbial and infrastructure heating to observed temperature increases at this site. We created a steady-state, two-dimensional, heat transport model using previous-published parameter values for physical, chemical and biodegradation properties. Simulated temperature distributions closely match the observed average annual temperatures measured in the contaminated area at the site within less than 0.2 °C in the unsaturated zone and 0.4 °C in the saturated zone. The model results confirm that the observed subsurface heat from microbial activity is due primarily to methane oxidation in the unsaturated zone resulting in a 3.6 °C increase in average annual temperature. Another important source of subsurface heat is from the active, crude-oil pipelines crossing the site. The pipelines impact temperatures for a distance of 200 m and contribute half the heat. Model results show that not accounting for the heat from the pipelines leads to overestimating the degradation rates by a factor of 1.7, demonstrating the importance of identifying and quantifying all heat sources. The model results also highlighted a zone where previously unknown microbial activity is occurring at the site.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Relative contributions of microbial and infrastructure heat at a crude oil-contaminated site|
|Series title||Journal of Contaminant Hydrology|
|Contributing office(s)||WMA - Earth System Processes Division|