Direct experimental evidence of non-first order degradation kinetics and sorption-induced isotopic fractionation in a mesoscale aquifer: 13C/12C analysis of a transient toluene pulse.
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The injection of a mixed toluene and D2O (conservative tracer) pulse into a pristine mesoscale aquifer enabled a first direct experimental comparison of contaminant-specific isotopic fractionation from sorption versus biodegradation and transverse dispersion on a relevant scale. Water samples were taken from two vertically resolved sampling ports at 4.2 m distance. Analysis of deuterium and toluene concentrations allowed quantifying the extent of sorption (R = 1.25) and biodegradation (37% and 44% of initial toluene at the two sampling ports). Sorption and biodegradation were found to directly affect toluene (13)C/(12)C breakthrough curves. In particular, isotope trends demonstrated that biodegradation underwent Michaelis-Menten kinetics rather than first-order kinetics. Carbon isotope enrichment factors obtained from an optimized reactive transport model (Eckert et al., this issue) including a possible isotope fractionation of transverse dispersion were ε(equ)(sorption) = -0.31 ‰, ε(kin)(transverse-dispersion) = -0.82 ‰, and ε(kin)(biodegradation) = -2.15 ‰. Extrapolation of our results to the scenario of a continuous injection predicted that (i) the bias in isotope fractionation from sorption, but not transverse dispersion, may be avoided when the plume reaches steady-state; and (ii) the relevance from both processes is expected to decrease at longer flow distances when isotope fractionation of degradation increasingly dominates.
author list (cited authors)
Qiu, S., Eckert, D., Cirpka, O. A., Huenniger, M., Knappett, P., Maloszewski, P., ... Elsner, M.