The potential for pesticide degradation varies greatly at the cm-scale in agricultural soil. Three dimensional numerical simulations were conducted to evaluate how such small-scale spatial heterogeneity may affect the leaching of the biodegradable pesticide 2-methyl-4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid (MCPA) in the upper metre of a variably-saturated, loamy soil profile. To incorporate realistic spatial variation in degradation potential, we used data from a site where 420 mineralization curves over 5 depths have been measured. Monod kinetics was fitted to the individual curves to derive initial degrader biomass values, which were incorporated in a reactive transport model to simulate heterogeneous biodegradation. Six scenarios were set up using COMSOL Multiphysics to evaluate the difference between models having different degrader biomass distributions (homogeneous, heterogeneous, or no biomass) and either matrix flow or preferential flow through a soil matrix with a wormhole. MCPA leached, within 250 days, below 1 metre only when degrader biomass was absent and preferential flow occurred. Both biodegradation in the plough layer and the microbially active lining of the wormhole contributed to reducing MCPA-leaching below one metre. The spatial distribution of initial degrader biomass within each soil matrix layer, however, had little effect on the overall MCPA-leaching.
Science of the Total Environment, 2014, Vol 472, p. 90-98