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Ground Water. 2004 May-Jun;42(3):374-83.

Spatial variability of in situ microbial activity: biotracer tests.

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  • 1University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA.


Biotracer tests have been proposed as a means by which to characterize the in situ biodegradation potential for field-scale systems. In this study, field experiments were conducted at two sites to evaluate the utility of the biotracer method for characterizing the spatial variability of microbial activity. The first site is a mixed waste-contaminated surficial aquifer in Utah, and the second site is a chlorinated solvent-contaminated regional aquifer in Tucson, Arizona. Mass recovery of the biotracer decreased approximately linearly with increasing residence time for the Tucson site. Similar behavior was observed at the Utah site, except in the region adjacent to the injection zone, where percent recoveries were much lower than those predicted using a correlation determined using data collected downgradient of the injection zone. First-order biodegradation rate coefficients obtained from model calibration of the tracer data varied between 0.2 and 0.5/day for the Tucson site. For the Utah site, the values varied between 0.1 and 0.6/day downgradient of the injection wells, and between 0.7 and 2.6/day near the injection wells. Considering the large range over which biodegradation rate coefficients can vary, the rate coefficient exhibited relatively minimal spatial variability (factor of 2.5) for the Tucson site. Conversely, the spatial variability of the rate coefficient was an order of magnitude greater for the Utah site. These differences in variability are consistent with conditions associated with the respective sites. For example, the greater microbial activity observed in the vicinity of the injection wells for the Utah site is consistent with the biomass distribution determined from analysis of core samples, which shows larger bacterial cell densities for the region near the injection wells. These results illustrate the utility of biotracer tests for in situ characterization of microbial activity (e.g., biodegradation potential), including evaluation of potential spatial variability.

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