Articles | Volume 21, issue 3
Research article
08 Mar 2017
Research article |  | 08 Mar 2017

Experimental study on retardation of a heavy NAPL vapor in partially saturated porous media

Simon Matthias Kleinknecht, Holger Class, and Jürgen Braun

Abstract. Non-aqueous-phase liquid (NAPL) contaminants introduced into the unsaturated zone spread as a liquid phase; however, they can also vaporize and migrate in a gaseous state. Vapor plumes migrate easily and thus pose a potential threat to underlying aquifers. Large-scale column experiments were performed to quantify partitioning processes responsible for the retardation of carbon disulfide (CS2) vapor in partially saturated porous media. The results were compared with a theoretical approach taking into account the partitioning into the aqueous phase as well as adsorption to the solid matrix and to the air–water interface. The experiments were conducted in large, vertical columns (i.d. of 0.109 m) of 2 m length packed with different porous media. A slug of CS2 vapor and the conservative tracer argon was injected at the bottom of the column followed by a nitrogen chase. Different seepage velocities were applied to characterize the transport and to evaluate their impact on retardation. Concentrations of CS2 and argon were measured at the top outlet of the column using two gas chromatographs. The temporal-moment analysis for step input was employed to evaluate concentration breakthrough curves and to quantify dispersion and retardation. The experiments conducted showed a pronounced retardation of CS2 in moist porous media which increased with water saturation. The comparison with an analytical solution helped to identify the relative contributions of partitioning processes to retardation. Thus, the experiments demonstrated that migrating CS2 vapor is retarded as a result of partitioning processes. Moreover, CS2 dissolved in the bulk water is amenable to biodegradation. The first evidence of CS2 decay by biodegradation was found in the experiments. The findings contribute to the understanding of vapor-plume transport in the unsaturated zone and provide valuable experimental data for the transfer to field-like conditions.

Short summary
Retardation of migrating contaminant vapors in the subsurface may mitigate groundwater contamination or vapor intrusion into buildings. An experimental investigation was conducted to quantify the retardation of carbon disulfide (CS2) vapor in moist porous media based on the analysis of concentration breakthrough curves. Findings linked retardation to types of porous media and water saturation. Moreover, the first evidence of biodegradation of the CS2 vapor was found in the column experiments.