Mass Transport within Soils

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Contaminants in soil can impact human health and the environment through a complex web of interactions. Soils exist where the atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, and biosphere converge. Soil is the thin outer zone of the earth's crust that supports rooted plants and is the product of climate and living organisms acting on rock. A true soil is a mixture of air, water, mineral, and organic components. The relative proportions of these components determine the value of the soil for agricultural and for other human uses. These proportions also determine, to a large extent, how a substance added to soil is transported ... continued below

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McKone, Thomas E. March 1, 2009.

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Contaminants in soil can impact human health and the environment through a complex web of interactions. Soils exist where the atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, and biosphere converge. Soil is the thin outer zone of the earth's crust that supports rooted plants and is the product of climate and living organisms acting on rock. A true soil is a mixture of air, water, mineral, and organic components. The relative proportions of these components determine the value of the soil for agricultural and for other human uses. These proportions also determine, to a large extent, how a substance added to soil is transported and/or transformed within the soil (Spositio, 2004). In mass-balance models, soil compartments play a major role, functioning both as reservoirs and as the principal media for transport among air, vegetation, surface water, deeper soil, and ground water (Mackay, 2001). Quantifying the mass transport of chemicals within soil and between soil and atmosphere is important for understanding the role soil plays in controlling fate, transport, and exposure to multimedia pollutants. Soils are characteristically heterogeneous. A trench dug into soil typically reveals several horizontal layers having different colors and textures. As illustrated in Figure 1, these multiple layers are often divided into three major horizons: (1) the A horizon, which encompasses the root zone and contains a high concentration of organic matter; (2) the B horizon, which is unsaturated, lies below the roots of most plants, and contains a much lower organic carbon content; and (3) the C horizon, which is the unsaturated zone of weathered parent rock consisting of bedrock, alluvial material, glacial material, and/or soil of an earlier geological period. Below these three horizons lies the saturated zone - a zone that encompasses the area below ground surface in which all interconnected openings within the geologic media are completely filled with water. Similarly to the unsaturated zone with three major horizons, the saturated zone can be further divided into other zones based on hydraulic and geologic conditions. Wetland soils are a special and important class in which near-saturation conditions exist most of the time. When a contaminant is added to or formed in a soil column, there are several mechanisms by which it can be dispersed, transported out of the soil column to other parts of the environment, destroyed, or transformed into some other species. Thus, to evaluate or manage any contaminant introduced to the soil column, one must determine whether and how that substance will (1) remain or accumulate within the soil column, (2) be transported by dispersion or advection within the soil column, (3) be physically, chemically, or biologically transformed within the soil (i.e., by hydrolysis, oxidation, etc.), or (4) be transported out of the soil column to another part of the environment through a cross-media transfer (i.e., volatilization, runoff, ground water infiltration, etc.). These competing processes impact the fate of physical, chemical, or biological contaminants found in soils. In order to capture these mechanisms in mass transfer models, we must develop mass-transfer coefficients (MTCs) specific to soil layers. That is the goal of this chapter. The reader is referred to other chapters in this Handbook that address related transport processes, namely Chapter 13 on bioturbation, Chapter 15 on transport in near-surface geological formations, and Chapter 17 on soil resuspention. This chapter addresses the following issues: the nature of soil pollution, composition of soil, transport processes and transport parameters in soil, transformation processes in soil, mass-balance models, and MTCs in soils. We show that to address vertical heterogeneity in soils in is necessary to define a characteristic scaling depth and use this to establish process-based expressions for soil MTCs. The scaling depth in soil and the corresponding MTCs depend strongly on (1) the composition of the soil and physical state of the soil, (2) the chemical and physical properties of the substance of interest, and (3) transformation rates in soil. Our particular focus is on approaches for constructing soil-transport algorithms and soil-transport parameters for incorporation within multimedia fate models. We show how MTC's can be developed to construct a simple two-compartment air-soil system. We then demonstrate how a multi-layer-box-model approach for soil-mass balance converges to the exact analytical solution for concentration and mass balance. Finally, we demonstrate and evaluate the performance of the algorithms in a model with applications to the specimen chemicals benzene, hexachlorobenzene, lindane gammahexachlorocyclohexane, benzo(a)pyrene, nickel, and copper.

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  • Report No.: LBNL-2518E
  • Grant Number: DE-AC02-05CH11231
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 973093
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc930131

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  • March 1, 2009

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  • Nov. 13, 2016, 7:26 p.m.

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  • Jan. 4, 2017, 5:52 p.m.

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McKone, Thomas E. Mass Transport within Soils, book, March 1, 2009; Berkeley, California. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc930131/: accessed June 24, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.