Abstract

The vadose zone filters pathogenic microbes from infiltrating water and consequently protects the groundwater from possible contamination. In some cases, however, the deposited microbes may be mobilized during rainfall and migrate into the groundwater. We examined the mobilization of microspheres, surrogates for microbes, in an intact core of a fractured soil by intermittent simulated rainfall. Fluorescent polystyrene microspheres of two sizes (0.5 and 1.8 mm) and Br were first applied to the core to deposit the microspheres, and then the core was subjected to three intermittent infiltration events to mobilize the deposited microspheres. Collecting effluent samples through a 19-port sampler at the base of the core, we found that water flowed through only five ports, and the flow rates varied among the ports by a factor of 12. These results suggest that flow paths leading to the ports had different permeabilities, partly due to macropores. Although 40 to 69% of injected microspheres were retained in the core during their application, 12 to 30% of the retained microspheres were mobilized during three intermittent infiltration events. The extent of microsphere mobilization was greater in flow paths with greater permeability, which indicates that macropores could enhance colloid mobilization during intermittent infiltration events. In all ports, the 1.8-mm microspheres were mobilized to a greater extent than the 0.5-mm microspheres, suggesting that larger colloids are more likely to mobilize. These results are useful in assessing the potential of pathogen mobilization and colloid-facilitated transport of contaminants in the subsurface under natural infiltration events.

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