Modeling the influence of coupled mass transfer processes on mass flux downgradient of heterogeneous DNAPL source zones.
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Sequestered mass in low permeability zones has been increasingly recognized as an important source of organic chemical contamination that acts to sustain downgradient plume concentrations above regulated levels. However, few modeling studies have investigated the influence of this sequestered mass and associated (coupled) mass transfer processes on plume persistence in complex dense nonaqueous phase liquid (DNAPL) source zones. This paper employs a multiphase flow and transport simulator (a modified version of the modular transport simulator MT3DMS) to explore the two- and three-dimensional evolution of source zone mass distribution and near-source plume persistence for two ensembles of highly heterogeneous DNAPL source zone realizations. Simulations reveal the strong influence of subsurface heterogeneity on the complexity of DNAPL and sequestered (immobile/sorbed) mass distribution. Small zones of entrapped DNAPL are shown to serve as a persistent source of low concentration plumes, difficult to distinguish from other (sorbed and immobile dissolved) sequestered mass sources. Results suggest that the presence of DNAPL tends to control plume longevity in the near-source area; for the examined scenarios, a substantial fraction (43.3-99.2%) of plume life was sustained by DNAPL dissolution processes. The presence of sorptive media and the extent of sorption non-ideality are shown to greatly affect predictions of near-source plume persistence following DNAPL depletion, with plume persistence varying one to two orders of magnitude with the selected sorption model. Results demonstrate the importance of sorption-controlled back diffusion from low permeability zones and reveal the importance of selecting the appropriate sorption model for accurate prediction of plume longevity. Large discrepancies for both DNAPL depletion time and plume longevity were observed between 2-D and 3-D model simulations. Differences between 2- and 3-D predictions increased in the presence of sorption, especially for the case of non-ideal sorption, demonstrating the limitations of employing 2-D predictions for field-scale modeling.