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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Mobilization, Fate, and Transport of Iron in the Anoxic Zone of a Sewage Contaminated Aquifer


The work reported here is the first part of a larger effort focused on efficient numerical simulation of redox zone development in contaminated aquifers. The sequential use of various electron acceptors, which is governed by the energy yield of each reaction, gives rise to redox zones. The large difference in energy yields between the various redox reactions leads to systems of equations that are extremely ill-conditioned. These equations are very difficult to solve, especially in the context of coupled fluid flow, solute transport, and geochemical simulations. We have developed a general, rational method to solve such systems where we focus on the dominant reactions, compartmentalizing them, in a manner that is analogous to the redox zones that are often observed in the field. The compartmentalized approach allows us to easily solve a complex geochemical system as a function of time and energy yield, laying the foundation for our ongoing work in which we couple the reaction network, for the development of redox zones, to a model of subsurface fluid flow and solute transport. Our method (i) solves the numerical system without evoking a redox parameter, (ii) improves the numerical stability of redox systems by choosing which compartment, and thus which reaction network, to use based upon the concentration ratios of key constituents, (iii) simulates the development of redox zones as a function of time without the use of inhibition factors or switching functions, and (iv) can reduce the number of transport equations that need to be solved in space and time. We show, through the use of various model performance evaluation statistics, that the appropriate compartment choice under different geochemical conditions leads to numerical solutions without significant error. The compartmentalized approach described here facilitates the next phase of this effort where we couple the redox zone reaction network to models of fluid flow and solute transport.

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