Comparison of continuum and pore-scale models of nutrient biodegradation under transverse mixing conditions

Chad Knutson, Albert Valocchi, Charles Werth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent studies indicate that during in situ bioremediation of contaminated groundwater, degradation occurs primarily along transverse mixing zones. Classical reactive-transport models overpredict the amount of degradation because solute spreading and mixing are not distinguished. Efforts to correct this have focused on modifying both dispersion and reaction terms, but no consensus on the best approach has emerged. In this work, a pore-scale model was used to simulate degradation along a transverse mixing zone between two required nutrients, and a continuum model with fitted parameters was used to match degradation rates from the pore-scale model. The pore-scale model solves for the flow field, concentration field, and biomass development within pore spaces of porous medium. For the continuum model, the flow field and biomass distributions are assumed to be homogeneous, and the fitting parameters are the transverse dispersion coefficient (DT) and maximum substrate utilization rate (kS,c). Results from the pore-scale model show that degradation rates near the system inlet are limited by the reaction rate, while degradation rates downgradient are limited by transverse mixing. For the continuum model, the value of DT may be adjusted so that the degradation rate with distance matches that from the pore-scale model in the mixing-limited region. However, adjusting the value of kS only improves the fit to pore-scale results within the reaction-limited region. Comparison with field and laboratory experiments suggests that the length of the reaction rate-limited region is small compared to the length scale over which degradation occurs. This indicates that along transverse mixing zones in the field, values of kS are unimportant and only the value of DT must be accurately fit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1421-1431
Number of pages11
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
Issue number6-7
StatePublished - Jun 2007


  • Biofilm modeling
  • Dispersion
  • Pore scale
  • Reactive transport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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