The anaerobic halorespiring microorganism, Sulfurospirillum multivorans, was observed in the pore structure of an etched silicon wafer to determine how flow hydrodynamics and mass transfer limitations along a transverse mixing zone affect biomass growth. Tetrachloroethene (PCE, an electron acceptor, 0.2 mM) and lactate (an electron donor, 2 mM) were introduced as two separate and parallel streams that mixed along a reaction line in the pore structure. The first visible biomass occupied a single line of pores in the direction of flow, a few pore bodies from the micromodel centerline. This growth was initially present as small aggregates; over time, these grew and fused to form finger-like structures with one end attached to downgradient ends of the silicon posts and the other end extending into pore bodies in the direction of flow. Biomass did not grow in pore throats as expected, presumably because shear forces were not favorable. Over the next few weeks, the line of growth migrated upward into the PCE zone and extended over a width of up to five pore spaces. When the PCE concentration was increased to 0.5 mM, the microbial biomass increased and growth migrated down toward the lactate side of the micromodel. A new analytical model was developed and used to demonstrate that transverse hydrodynamic dispersion likely caused the biomass to move in the direction observed when the PCE concentration was changed. The model was unable, however, to explain why growth migrated upward when the PCE concentration was initially constant. We postulate that this occurred because PCE, not lactate, sorbed to biofilm components and that biomass on the lactate side of the micromodel was limited in PCE. A fluorescent tracer experiment showed that biomass growth changed the water flow paths, creating a higher velocity zone in the PCE half of the micromodel. These results contribute to our understanding of biofilm growth and will help in the development of new models to describe this complex process.
Predicting the dissolution rate of nonaqueous phase liquids (NAPLs) in groundwater is difficult, as the effects of variable pore and NAPL blob geometry are poorly understood. To elucidate these effects, fluorescence microscopy and digital image analysis were used to quantify the size and location of variably distributed NAPL blobs during dissolution in homogeneous and heterogeneous pore networks etched into silicon wafers. Results show that the dissolution rate constant (expressed as the Sherwood number, Sh) is relatively constant regardless of pore and NAPL blob geometry when the average mass transfer length scale remains constant during dissolution. Results also show that Sh increases with Peclet (Pe) between 2 and 26 and then levels off. The limiting value of Sh reached depends on the average diffusion length scale; this length scale was directly calculated and found to vary depending on the pore and NAPL blob geometry. For example, the average diffusion length scale decreases (and Sh increases) as the pore throat width to grain diameter increases. Last, results show that the volumetric NAPL content (θn) is linearly related to the specific NAPL-water interfacial area (ait) over much of the dissolution process. However, this relationship depends on the pore and blob size distribution. For example, when multipore blobs control dissolution, the relationship between these parameters will change as smaller blobs dominate dissolution at low θn. These results are important because existing mass transfer correlations do not account for limiting values of Sh that can be obtained at high Pe for the effect of blob or pore geometry on the average diffusion length scale (and therefore on Sh) or for the effect of pore geometry and transient blob size distribution on the relationship between ait and θn.