Inverse modeling of BTEX dissolution and biodegradation at the Bemidji, MN crude-oil spill site

Hedeff I Essaid, Isabelle M Cozzarelli, Robert P Eganhouse, William N Herkelrath, Barbara A Bekins, Geoffrey N Delin
Journal of Contaminant Hydrology 2003, 67 (1): 269-99
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) solute transport and biodegradation code BIOMOC was used in conjunction with the USGS universal inverse modeling code UCODE to quantify field-scale hydrocarbon dissolution and biodegradation at the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program crude-oil spill research site located near Bemidji, MN. This inverse modeling effort used the extensive historical data compiled at the Bemidji site from 1986 to 1997 and incorporated a multicomponent transport and biodegradation model. Inverse modeling was successful when coupled transport and degradation processes were incorporated into the model and a single dissolution rate coefficient was used for all BTEX components. Assuming a stationary oil body, we simulated benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, m,p-xylene, and o-xylene (BTEX) concentrations in the oil and ground water, respectively, as well as dissolved oxygen. Dissolution from the oil phase and aerobic and anaerobic degradation processes were represented. The parameters estimated were the recharge rate, hydraulic conductivity, dissolution rate coefficient, individual first-order BTEX anaerobic degradation rates, and transverse dispersivity. Results were similar for simulations obtained using several alternative conceptual models of the hydrologic system and biodegradation processes. The dissolved BTEX concentration data were not sufficient to discriminate between these conceptual models. The calibrated simulations reproduced the general large-scale evolution of the plume, but did not reproduce the observed small-scale spatial and temporal variability in concentrations. The estimated anaerobic biodegradation rates for toluene and o-xylene were greater than the dissolution rate coefficient. However, the estimated anaerobic biodegradation rates for benzene, ethylbenzene, and m,p-xylene were less than the dissolution rate coefficient. The calibrated model was used to determine the BTEX mass balance in the oil body and groundwater plume. Dissolution from the oil body was greatest for compounds with large effective solubilities (benzene) and with large degradation rates (toluene and o-xylene). Anaerobic degradation removed 77% of the BTEX that dissolved into the water phase and aerobic degradation removed 17%. Although goodness-of-fit measures for the alternative conceptual models were not significantly different, predictions made with the models were quite variable.

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