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Publication Detail
The implications of groundwater velocity variations on microbial transport and wellhead protection: review of field evidence
  • Publication Type:
    Journal article
  • Publication Sub Type:
  • Authors:
    Taylor R, Cronin AA, Pedley S, Atkinson TC, Barker JA
  • Publisher:
  • Publication date:
  • Pagination:
    17, 26
  • Journal:
    FEMS Microbiology Ecology
  • Volume:
  • Issue:
  • Print ISSN:
  • Keywords:
    bacteria, viruses, groundwater, transport, tracers, protection
Current models of microbial transport and strategies to protect groundwater sources from microbial contamination (e.g., wellhead protection areas) rely upon natural attenuation of microorganisms between wells or springs and potential sources of contamination and are defined using average (macroscopic) groundwater flow velocities described by Darcy's Law. Field studies of sewage contamination and applied microbial tracers provide, however, evidence of rapid groundwater flow velocities that transport bacteria and viruses along a range of linked, microscopic groundwater pathways. Such contaminants can be observed to traverse rapid, statistically-extreme sets of microscopic groundwater velocities due to: (i) the high concentrations of bacteria and viruses that enter near-surface environments in sewage or are deliberately applied as tracers (e.g., bacteriophage); and (ii) low detection limits of these microorganisms in water. In heterogeneous media where microorganisms may be excluded from the matrix, the disparity between the average linear velocity of groundwater flow and flow velocities transporting released or applied microorganisms is intensified. Since wellhead protection areas are normally based upon the natural attenuation of microbiological contaminants over distances predicted from macroscopic (average) groundwater flow velocities, it is critical to recognise the limited protection afforded by these measures that disregard rapid, statistically extreme groundwater velocities transporting pathogenic microorganisms.
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