Journal article

Tidal influence on BTEX biodegradation in sandy coastal aquifers

A numerical study was conducted to investigate the influence of tides on the fate of terrestrially-derived BTEX discharging through an unconfined aquifer to coastal waters. Previous studies have revealed that tide-induced seawater circulations create an active salt-freshwater mixing zone in the near-shore aquifer and alter the specific subsurface pathway for contaminants discharging to the coastal environment. Here the coupled density- dependent flow and multi-species reactive transport code PHWAT was used to examine the impact of these tidal effects on the aerobic biodegradation of BTEX released in a coastal aquifer and its subsequent loading to coastal waters. Simulations indicated that tides significantly enhance BTEX attenuation in the near-shore aquifer. They also reduce the rate of chemical transfer from the aquifer to the ocean and exit concentrations at the beach face. For the base case consisting of toluene transport and biodegradation, 79% of toluene initially released in the aquifer was attenuated prior to discharge with tides present, compared to only 1.8% for the non-tidal case. The magnitude of tidal forcing relative to the fresh groundwater flow rate was shown to influence significantly the extent of biodegradation as it controls the intensity of salt-freshwater mixing, period of exposure of the contaminant to the mixing zone and rate of oxygen delivery to the aquifer. The oxygen available for biode-gradation also depends on the rate at which oxygen is consumed by natural processes such as organic matter decomposition. While simulations conducted with heterogeneous conductivity fields highlighted the uncertainties associated with predicting contaminant loadings, the study revealed overall that BTEX may undergo significant attenuation in tidally-influenced aquifers prior to discharge.

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