Mass flux from a non-aqueous phase liquid pool considering spontaneous expansion of a discontinuous gas phase
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The partitioning of non-aqueous phase liquid (NAPL) compounds to a discontinuous gas phase results in the repeated spontaneous expansion, snap-off, and vertical mobilization of the gas phase. This mechanism has the potential to significantly affect the mass transfer processes that control the dissolution of NAPL pools by increasing the vertical transport of NAPL mass and increasing the total mass transfer rate from the surface of the pool. The extent to which this mechanism affects mass transfer from a NAPL pool depends on the rate of expansion and the mass of NAPL compound in the gas phase. This study used well-controlled bench-scale experiments under no-flow conditions to quantify for the first time the expansion of a discontinuous gas phase in the presence of NAPL. Air bubbles placed in glass vials containing NAPL increased significantly in volume, from a radius of 1.0 mm to 2.0 mm over 215 days in the presence of tetrachloroethene (PCE), and from a radius of 1.2 mm to 2.3 mm over 22 days in the presence of trans-1,2-dichloroethene (tDCE). A one-dimensional mass transfer model, fit to the experimental data, showed that this expansion could result in a mass flux from the NAPL pool that was similar in magnitude to the mass flux expected for the dissolution of a NAPL pool in a two-fluid (NAPL and water) system. Conditions favouring the significant effect of a discontinuous gas phase on mass transfer were identified as groundwater velocities less than approximately 0.01 m/day, and a gas phase that covers greater than approximately 10% of the pool surface area and is located within approximately 0.01 m of the pool surface. Under these conditions the mass transfer via a discontinuous gas phase is expected to affect, for example, efforts to locate NAPL source zones using aqueous concentration data, and predict the lifetime and risk associated with NAPL source zones in a way that is not currently included in the common conceptual models used to assess NAPL-contaminated sites.
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