Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Water Research






School of Engineering


Lari, K. S., Davis, G. B., Rayner, J. L., & Bastow, T. P. (2024). Advective and diffusive gas phase transport in vadose zones: Importance for defining vapour risks and natural source zone depletion of petroleum hydrocarbons. Water Research, 255, article 121455.


Quantifying the interlinked behaviour of the soil microbiome, fluid flow, multi-component transport and partitioning, and biodegradation is key to characterising vapour risks and natural source zone depletion (NSZD) of light non-aqueous phase liquid (LNAPL) petroleum hydrocarbons. Critical to vapour transport and NSZD is transport of gases through the vadose zone (oxygen from the atmosphere, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), methane and carbon dioxide from the zone of LNAPL biodegradation). Volatilisation of VOCs from LNAPL, aerobic biodegradation, methanogenesis and heat production all generate gas pressure changes that may lead to enhanced gas fluxes apart from diffusion. Despite the importance of the gaseous phase dynamics in the vadose zone processes, the relative pressure changes and consequent scales of advective (buoyancy and pressure driven) / diffusive transport is less studied. We use a validated multi-phase multi-component non-isothermal modelling framework to differentiate gas transport mechanisms. We simulate a multicomponent unweathered gasoline LNAPL with high VOC content to maximise the potential for pressure changes due to volatilisation and to enable the joint effects of methanogenesis and shallower aerobic biodegradation of vapours to be assessed, along with heat production. Considering a uniform fine sand profile with LNAPL resident in the water table capillary zone, results suggest that biodegradation plays the key role in gas phase formation and consequent pressure build-up. Results suggest that advection is the main transport mechanism over a thin zone inside the LNAPL/capillary region, where the effective gaseous diffusion is very low. In the bulk of the vadose zone above the LNAPL region, the pressure change is minimal, and gaseous diffusion is dominant. Even for high biodegradation rate cases, pressure build-up due to heat generation (inducing buoyancy effects) is smaller than the contribution of gas formation due to biodegradation. The findings are critical to support broader assumptions of diffusive transport being dominant in vapour transport and NSZD assessments.



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.