Enhanced biogeochemical cycling and subsequent reduction of hydraulic conductivity associated with soil-layer interfaces in the vadose zone. Academic Article uri icon


  • Biogeochemical dynamics in the vadose zone are poorly understood due to the transient nature of chemical and hydrologic conditions but are nonetheless critical to understanding chemical fate and transport. This study explored the effects of a soil layer on linked geochemical, hydrological, and microbiological processes. Three laboratory soil columns were constructed: a homogenized medium-grained sand, a homogenized organic-rich loam, and a sand-over-loam layered column. Upward and downward infiltration of water was evaluated during experiments to simulate rising water table and rainfall events, respectively. In situ collocated probes measured soil water content, matric potential, and Eh. Water samples collected from the same locations were analyzed for Br, Cl, NO, SO, NH, Fe, and total sulfide. Compared with homogeneous columns, the presence of a soil layer altered the biogeochemistry and water flow of the system considerably. Enhanced biogeochemical cycling was observed in the layered column over the texturally homogeneous soil columns. Enumerations of iron- and sulfate-reducing bacteria showed 1 to 2 orders of magnitude greater community numbers in the layered column. Mineral and soil aggregate composites were most abundant near the soil-layer interface, the presence of which likely contributed to an observed order-of-magnitude decrease in hydraulic conductivity. These findings show that quantifying coupled hydrologic-biogeochemical processes occurring at small-scale soil interfaces is critical to accurately describing and predicting chemical changes at the larger system scale. These findings also provide justification for considering soil layering in contaminant fate and transport models because of its potential to increase biodegradation or to slow the rate of transport of contaminants.

published proceedings

  • J Environ Qual

author list (cited authors)

  • Hansen, D. J., McGuire, J. T., & Mohanty, B. P.

citation count

  • 20

complete list of authors

  • Hansen, David J||McGuire, Jennifer T||Mohanty, Binayak P

publication date

  • November 2011