The role of physical, chemical, and microbial heterogeneity on the field-scale transport and attachment of bacteria

Brian J. Mailloux, Mark E. Fuller, Tullis C. Onstott, James Hall, Hailiang Dong, Mary F. DeFlaun, Sheryl H. Streger, Randi K. Rothmel, Maria Green, Donald J.P. Swift, Jon Radke

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36 Scopus citations


A field-scale bacterial transport experiment was conducted at the Narrow Channel Focus Area of the South Oyster field site located in Oyster, Virginia. The goal of the field experiment was to determine the relative influence of subsurface heterogeneity and microbial population parameters on flow direction, velocity, and attachment of bacteria at the field scale. The field results were compared with results from laboratory-scale column experiments to develop a method for predicting field-scale bacterial transport. The field site is a shallow, sandy, unconfined, aerobic aquifer that has been characterized by geophysical, sedimentological, and hydrogeological methods. Comamonas sp. strain DA001 and a conservative tracer, bromide (Br), were injected into an area of high permeability for 12 hours. The Br and bacterial concentrations in the groundwater were monitored for 1 week at 192 sampling ports spaced over a 2-m vertical zone located from 0.5 to 7 m down-gradient of the injection well. The bacterial and Br plume was observed to move past 95 sampling ports. The densely characterized field site enabled the comparison of variations in DA001 transport to the aquifer properties. The velocity of the injected plume was correlated with geophysical estimates of hydraulic conductivity. The bacterial and Br plume appeared to follow flow paths not coincident with the hydraulic gradient but through a zone of higher permeability located off the flow axis. The amount of breakthrough of the bacteria was similar in both the high and low permeability layers with only a weak correlation between the observed hydraulic conductivity and amount of bacterial breakthrough. The uniformity in the observed attachment rates across varying grain sizes could be explained by heterogeneity of microbial properties within the single strain of injected bacteria. Application of colloid filtration theory to the field data indicated that variations in the microbial population were described by a lognormal distribution of the collision efficiency (α). Core-scale studies were used to predict the α distribution and field-scale transport distances of DA001. In sandy aquifers, physical heterogeneity may play a secondary role in controlling field-scale bacterial transport, and future research should focus on the microbial factors affecting transport.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)SBH21-SBH217
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


  • Bacterial transport
  • Geomicrobiology
  • Groundwater transport


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