Phytoremediation of BTEX Hydrocarbons: Potential Impacts of Diurnal Groundwater Fluctuation on Microbial Degradation


Volatile hydrocarbons have multiple potential fates in phytoremediation. This research investigated the relationship between biodegradation and plant uptake of BTEX compounds in laboratory and field settings. At a phytoremediation site, preliminary studies revealed minimal uptake into trees and enhanced degradation potential in the rhizosphere and in the bulk soil. Increased oxygen transport to the vadose zone caused by diurnal rise and fall of the water table was hypothesized to enhance degradation in the bulk soil. A detailed greenhouse study was then conducted to investigate potential bioremediation impacts using field-site soil and DN34 hybrid poplar trees. In rhizosphere soils, the contaminated-planted reactor had significantly higher BTEX degrader populations versus the uncontaminated-planted reactor, as was anticipated. The bulk soil in the planted-contaminated reactor had increased degrader populations than the unplanted-contaminated soil or planted-uncontaminated soil, and planting increased degradation throughout the soil profile, not just in the limited volume of rhizosphere soils. Oxygen diffusive and advective transport into reactors was modeled and calculated. Oxygen input in planted reactors was at least 3 to 5 times higher than in unplanted reactors, and increasing oxygen input lead to increased degrader populations in a linear manner. These results combined with the knowledge that high-transpiration trees draw the contaminated groundwater to the capillary fringe and the rhizosphere indicate that phytoremediation can aid microbial degradation via multiple mechanisms: increasing degrader populations, increasing oxygen input via groundwater diurnal fluctuations, and transporting contaminants to the biologically-enriched soil profile.


Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering

Keywords and Phrases

BTEX; Aerobic Degradation; Petroleum; Phytoremediation; Rhizosphere

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Article - Journal

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© 2009 Taylor & Francis, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Jul 2009