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Environmental Science and Pollution Research

Effect of concentration gradients on biodegradation in bench-scale sand columns with HYDRUS modeling of hydrocarbon transport and degradation

Agota Horel, Silke Schiewer, Debasmita Misra

Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, Water and Environmental Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, PO Box 755900, Fairbanks, AK, 99775-5900, USA.


The present research investigated to what extent results obtained in small microcosm experiments can be extrapolated to larger settings with non-uniform concentrations. Microbial hydrocarbon degradation in sandy sediments was compared for column experiments versus homogenized microcosms with varying concentrations of diesel, Syntroleum, and fish biodiesel as contaminants. Syntroleum and fish biodiesel had higher degradation rates than diesel fuel. Microcosms showed significantly higher overall hydrocarbon mineralization percentages (p<0.006) than columns. Oxygen levels and moisture content were likely not responsible for that difference, which could, however, be explained by a strong gradient of fuel and nutrient concentrations through the column. The mineralization percentage in the columns was similar to small-scale microcosms at high fuel concentrations. While absolute hydrocarbon degradation increased, mineralization percentages decreased with increasing fuel concentration which was corroborated by saturation kinetics; the absolute CO2 production reached a steady plateau value at high substrate concentrations. Numerical modeling using HYDRUS 2D/3D simulated the transport and degradation of the investigated fuels in vadose zone conditions similar to those in laboratory column experiments. The numerical model was used to evaluate the impact of different degradation rate constants from microcosm versus column experiments.

Keywords: Bioremediation, Modeling, Hydrocarbons, Biodiesel, Concentration gradient, Biodegradation, HYDRUS.

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