Colloid Transport and Retention in Unsaturated Porous Media: Effect of Colloid Input Concentration

Zhang W., Morales V. L. , Cakmak M. E. , Salvucci A. E. , Geohring L. D. , Hay A. G. , ...More

ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY, vol.44, no.13, pp.4965-4972, 2010 (Journal Indexed in SCI) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 44 Issue: 13
  • Publication Date: 2010
  • Doi Number: 10.1021/es100272f
  • Page Numbers: pp.4965-4972


Colloids play an important role in facilitating transport of adsorbed contaminants in soils. Recent studies showed that under saturated conditions colloid retention was a function of its concentration. It is unknown if this is the case under unsaturated conditions. In this study, the effect of colloid concentration on colloid retention was investigated in unsaturated columns by increasing concentrations of colloid influents with varying ionic strength. Colloid retention was observed in situ by bright field microscopy and quantified by measuring colloid breakthrough curves. In our unsaturated experiments, greater input concentrations resulted in increased colloid retention at ionic strength above 0.1 mM, but not in deionized water (i.e., 0 mM ionic strength). Brightfield microscope images showed that colloid retention mainly occurred at the solid-water interface and wedge-shaped air-water-solid interfaces, whereas the retention at the grain-grain contacts was minor. Some colloids at the air-water-solid interfaces were rotating and oscillating and thus trapped. Computational hydrodynamic simulation confirmed that the wedge-shaped air-water-solid interface could form a "hydrodynamic trap" by retaining colloids in its low velocity vortices. Direct visualization also revealed that colloids once retained acted as new retention sites for other suspended colloids at ionic strength greater than 0.1 mM and thereby could explain the greater retention with increased input concentrations. Derjaguin-Landau-Verwey-Overbeek (DLVO) energy calculations support this concept. Finally, the results of unsaturated experiments were in agreement with limited saturated experiments under otherwise the same conditions.