Title page for ETD etd-05152012-110338

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Mobile, Michael Anthony
Author's Email Address mobile@vt.edu
URN etd-05152012-110338
Title Quantification of Parameters in Models for Contaminant Dissolution and Desorption in Groundwater
Degree PhD
Department Civil Engineering
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Widdowson, Mark A. Committee Chair
Gallagher, Daniel L. Committee Co-Chair
Pruden-Bagchi, Amy Jill Committee Member
Schreiber, Madeline E. Committee Member
  • Non-Aqueous Phase Liquids
  • source zone analysis
  • desorption
  • inverse modeling
  • parameter estimation
  • mass transfer
  • dissolution
Date of Defense 2012-04-20
Availability restricted
One of the most significant challenges faced when modeling mass transfer from contaminant source zones is uncertainty regarding parameter estimates. These rate parameters are of particular importance because they control the connectivity between a simulated contaminant source zone and the aqueous phase. Where direct observation has fallen short, this study attempts to interpret field data using an inverse modeling technique for the purpose of constraining mass transfer processes which are poorly understood at the field scale. Inverse modeling was applied to evaluate parameters in rate-limited models for mass transfer. Two processes were analyzed: (i) desorption of hydrophobic contaminants and (ii) multicomponent Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid (NAPL) dissolution.

Desorption was investigated using data obtained from elution experiments conducted with weathered sediment contaminated with 2,4,6 trinitrotoluene (TNT) (Sellm and Iskandar, 1994). Transport modeling was performed with four alternative source models, but predictive error was minimized by two first-order models which represented sorption/desorption using a Freundlich isotherm. The results suggest that first-order/Freundlich models can reproduce dynamic desorption attributed to high-and-low relative energy sorption sites. However, additional experimentation with the inversion method suggests that mass constraints are required in order to appropriately determine mass transfer coefficients and sorption parameters.

The final portion of this research focused on rate-limited mass transfer from multicomponent NAPLs to the aqueous phase. Previous work has been limited to bench and intermediate scale findings which have been shown to inadequately translate to field conditions. Two studies were conducted in which numerical modeling was used to reproduce dissolution from multicomponent NAPL sources. In the first study, a model was generated to reproduce dissolution of chloroform (TCM), trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE) observed during an emplaced-source field experiment conducted within a flow cell (Broholm et al., 1999). In the second study, a methodology was developed for analyzing benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX) data during a field-scale mass transfer test conducted within a vertically-smeared source zone (Kavanaugh, 2010). The findings suggest that the inversion technique, when provided appropriate characterization of site and source parameters and when given appropriate dataset resolution, represents a viable method for parameter determination. Furthermore, the findings of this research suggest that inversion-based modeling provides an innovative predictive method for determining mass transfer parameters for multicomponent mixtures at the field scale.

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