Bacterial transport in porous media: Evaluation of a model using laboratory observations


  • George M. Hornberger,

  • Aaron L. Mills,

  • Janet S. Herman


The factors that control the transport of bacteria through porous media are not well understood. The relative importance of the processes of dispersion, of immobilization of bacterial cells by various mechanisms (deposition), and of subsequent release of these trapped cells (entrainment) in describing transport has not been elucidated experimentally. Moreover, the variability of the phenomenological coefficients used to model these processes, given changes in such primary factors as grain size, organism, and ionic strength of the water, is unknown. We report results of fitting solutions of an advection-dispersion equation, modified to account for deposition and entrainment, to breakthrough curves from packed sand columns using two sizes of sand, two ionic strengths of the carrier solution, and two organisms with different sizes. A solution to the advection-dispersion equation including three processes, that is, dispersion, deposition, and entrainment, provides a match to the data that is superior to that achieved by solutions ignoring one of the processes. Fitted values of the coefficient describing deposition vary in a consistent manner with the control variables (organism, grain size, and ionic strength) and are generally within one order of magnitude of those predicted on the basis of theory.