Biodegradation at Dynamic Plume Fringes: Mixing Versus Reaction Control

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 11:05 AM
Olaf A Cirpka1, Dominik Eckert1, Christian Griebler2, Christina Haberer1, Petra Kürzinger2, Robert Bauer2 and Adrian Mellage1, (1)University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany, (2)Helmholtz Center Munich, Institute of Groundwater Ecology, Oberschleissheim, Germany
Biodegradation of continuously emitted plumes is known to be most pronounced at the plume fringe, where mixing of contaminated water and ambient groundwater, containing dissolved electron acceptors, stimulates microbial activity. Under steady-state conditions, physical mixing of contaminant and electron acceptor by transverse dispersion was shown to be the major bottleneck for biodegradation, with plume lengths scaling inversely with the bulk transverse dispersivity in quasi two-dimensional settings. Under these conditions, the presence of suitable microbes is essential but the biokinetic parameters do not play an important role. When the location of the plume shifts (caused, e.g., by a fluctuating groundwater table), however, the bacteria are no more situated at the plume fringe and biomass growth, decay, activation and deactivation determine the time lag until the fringe-controlled steady state is approached again. During this time lag, degradation is incomplete. The objective of the presented study was to analyze to which extent flow and transport dynamics diminish effectiveness of fringe-controlled biodegradation and which microbial processes and related biokinetic parameters determine the system response in overall degradation to hydraulic fluctuations.

We performed experiments in quasi-two-dimensional flow through microcosms on aerobic toluene degradation by Pseudomonas putida F1. Plume dynamics were simulated by vertical alteration of the toluene plume position and experimental results were analyzed by reactive-transport modeling. We found that, even after disappearance of the toluene plume for two weeks, the majority of microorganisms stayed attached to the sediment and regained their full biodegradation potential within two days after reappearance of the toluene plume. Our results underline that besides microbial growth and maintenance (often subsumed as "biomass decay") microbial dormancy (that is, change into a metabolically inactive state) and endogeneous respiration are important to understand the dynamic behavior of electron-acceptor and -donor fluxes under transient environmental conditions and therefore deserve increased consideration in future reactive-transport modeling.