Biodegradation of subsurface oil in a tidally influenced sand beach: Impact of hydraulics and interaction with pore water chemistry

Xiaolong Geng, Michel C. Boufadel, Kenneth Lee, Stewart Abrams, Makram Suidan

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42 Scopus citations


The aerobic biodegradation of oil in tidally influenced beaches was investigated numerically in this work using realistic beach and tide conditions. A numerical model BIOMARUN, coupling a multiple-Monod kinetic model BIOB to a density-dependent variably saturated groundwater flow model 2-D MARUN, was used to simulate the biodegradation of low-solubility hydrocarbon and transport processes of associated solute species (i.e., oxygen and nitrogen) in a tidally influenced beach environment. It was found that different limiting factors affect different portions of the beach. In the upper intertidal zone, where the inland incoming nutrient concentration was large (1.2 mg N/L), oil biodegradation occurred deeper in the beach (i.e., 0.3 m below the surface). In the midintertidal zone, a reversal was noted where the biodegradation was fast at shallow locations (i.e., 0.1 m below the surface), and it was due to the decrease of oxygen with depth due to consumption, which made oxygen the limiting factor for biodegradation. Oxygen concentration in the midintertidal zone exhibited two peaks as a function of time. One peak was associated with the high tide, when dissolved oxygen laden seawater filled the beach and a second oxygen peak was observed during low tides, and it was due to pore oxygen replenishment from the atmosphere. The effect of the capillary fringe (CF) height was investigated, and it was found that there is an optimal CF for the maximum biodegradation of oil in the beach. Too large a CF (i.e., very fine material) would attenuate oxygen replenishment (either from seawater or the atmosphere), while too small a CF (i.e., very coarse material) would reduce the interaction between microorganisms and oil in the upper intertidal zone due to rapid reduction in the soil moisture at low tide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3193-3218
Number of pages26
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


  • BIOMARUN model
  • subsurface oil biodegradation
  • tidally influenced beaches


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