Copper contamination affects biological, chemical, and physical soil properties and associated ecological functions. Changes in soil pore organization as a result of Cu contamination can dramatically affect flow and contaminant transport in polluted soils. This study assessed the influence of soil structure on the movement of water and Cu in a long-term polluted soil. Undisturbed soil cores collected along a Cu gradient (from about 20 to about 3800 mg Cu kg−1 soil) were scanned using X-ray computed tomography (CT). Leaching experiments were performed to analyze tracer transport, colloid leaching, and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and Cu losses. The 5% arrival time (t0.05) and apparent dispersivity (λapp) for tracer breakthrough were calculated by fitting the experimental data to a nonparametric, double-lognormal probability density function. Soil bulk density, which did not follow the Cu gradient, was the main driver of preferential flow, while macroporosity determined by X-ray CT (for pores >180 μm) proved the best predictor of solute transport. Higher preferential flow due to the presence of well-aligned pores and small cracks controlled water movement in compacted soil. Transport of Cu was rapid during the first flush (≈1 pore volume) in association with the movement of colloid particles, followed by slower transport in association with the movement of DOC in the soil solution. The relative amount of Cu released was strongly correlated with macroporosity as determined by X-ray CT, indicating the promising potential of this visualization technique for predicting contaminant transport through soil.
Journal of Environmental Quality, 2013, Vol 42, Issue 6, p. 1852-1862