Geophysical Research Letters

A colloid-facilitated transport model with variable colloid transport properties



[1] Anomalous contaminant transport velocities in groundwater for species generally considered to be immobile are often attributed to the mechanism of colloid-facilitated transport. In some of the field observations attributed to colloid facilitation, an extremely small fraction of the total contaminant mass introduced to the groundwater is detected downstream. In this study, a new model of colloid-facilitated contaminant transport is proposed that explains this phenomenon as the variability of mobility of individual colloids in the population. The process of retardation via attachment and detachment of colloids on immobile surfaces is often modeled with time and space invariant parameters; here it is modeled assuming a diverse population of transport properties that account for the inherent variability of colloid size, surface charge and chemical properties, mineralogy, and the concomitant impact on colloid mobility. When the contaminant is assumed to irreversibly attach to or form colloids, the migration of the contaminant plume exhibits extremely non-Fickian behavior. The plume's center of mass travels with a velocity governed by the groundwater velocity divided by the mean colloid retardation factor. However, small quantities of contaminant attached to a few highly mobile colloids travel at velocities up to the groundwater velocity, far exceeding the velocity of the centroid of the plume. This paper introduces the colloid diversity model, presents some sensitivity calculations for an idealized case, and discusses the implications of such a model on data needs, simulation of field observations, and model scaling.