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This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 43 No. 2, p. 421-440
    Received: May 30, 2013
    Published: June 23, 2014

    * Corresponding author(s): Scott.Bradford@ars.usda.gov


Modeling Microorganism Transport and Survival in the Subsurface

  1. Scott A. Bradford *a,
  2. Yusong Wangb,
  3. Hyunjung Kimc,
  4. Saeed Torkzaband and
  5. Jiri Šimůnekb
  1. a U.S. Salinity Lab., Riverside, CA 92507
    b Dep. of Environmental Sciences, Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521
    c Dep. of Mineral Resources and Energy Engineering, Chonbuk National Univ., 664-14 Duckjin, Jeonju, Jeonbuk 561-756, Republic of Korea
    d CSIRO Land and Water, Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia.


An understanding of microbial transport and survival in the subsurface is needed for public health, environmental applications, and industrial processes. Much research has therefore been directed to quantify mechanisms influencing microbial fate, and the results demonstrate a complex coupling among many physical, chemical, and biological factors. Mathematical models can be used to help understand and predict the complexities of microbial transport and survival in the subsurface under given assumptions and conditions. This review highlights existing model formulations that can be used for this purpose. In particular, we discuss models based on the advection–dispersion equation, with terms for kinetic retention to solid–water and/or air–water interfaces; blocking and ripening; release that is dependent on the resident time, diffusion, and transients in solution chemistry, water velocity, and water saturation; and microbial decay (first-order and Weibull) and growth (logistic and Monod) that is dependent on temperature, nutrient concentration, and/or microbial concentration. We highlight a two-region model to account for microbe migration in the vicinity of a solid phase and use it to simulate the coupled transport and survival of Escherichia coli species under a variety of environmentally relevant scenarios. This review identifies challenges and limitations of models to describe and predict microbial transport and survival. In particular, many model parameters have to be optimized to simulate a diversity of observed transport, retention, and survival behavior at the laboratory scale. Improved theory and models are needed to predict the fate of microorganisms in natural subsurface systems that are highly dynamic and heterogeneous.

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