Direct aerobic NSZD of a basalt vadose zone LNAPL source in Hawaii

Authors: T. McHugh, C. Newell, B. Strasters, C. Stanley, J. Johnson , T. Henderson, D. Roff, J. Narusawa
Published: June 2020 in Journal of Contaminant Hydrology.


In recent years, a number of methods have been used to measure the biodegradation of petroleum light non-aqueous phase liquids (LNAPL) at petroleum release sites, a process known as natural source zone depletion (NSZD). Most commonly, NSZD rates have been measured at sites with unconsolidated geology and relatively shallow groundwater (<50 ft bgs, <15 m bgs). For this study, we have used two methods (1. carbon dioxide flux measured using carbon traps and 2. heat flux based on subsurface temperature gradients) to measure NSZD rates at a petroleum release site in Hawaii with basalt geology and deep groundwater (>300 ft bgs, >100 m bgs). Both methods documented the occurrence of NSZD at the facility and the two methods yield estimates of the NSZD rate that agreed within a factor of 2 (4,600 to 7,400 gal/yr; 17,000 to 28,000 L/yr for the flux method and 8,600 to 13,000 gal/yr; 33,000 to 49,000 L/yr for the temperature method). Soil gas samples collected directly above the water table and at shallower depths within the vadose zone indicated aerobic conditions throughout the vadose zone (oxygen >13%) and no detectable methane. These results indicate that NSZD occurs at this site through the direct aerobic biodegradation of LNAPL rather than the two-step process of anaerobic methanogenesis followed by methane oxidation at a shallow depth interval documented at other sites

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