Particle tracer transport in a sloping soil lysimeter under periodic, steady state conditions

Chaozi Wang, Coy P. McNew, Steve W. Lyon, M. Todd Walter, Till H.M. Volkman, Nathan Abramson, Aditi Sengupta, Yadi Wang, Antonio Alves Meira Neto, Luke Pangle, Peter A. Troch, Minseok Kim, Ciaran Harman, Helen E. Dahlke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Colloid transport through complex and dynamic (i.e. non-steady-state) hydrologic systems is rarely studied, owing to the difficulty of constraining initial and boundary conditions and quantifying colloid-porous media and colloid-colloid interactions in transient flow systems. Here we present a particle tracer experiment conducted on a sloped lysimeter receiving periodic rainfall events for 10 days. Four unique, DNA-labelled particle tracers were injected both in sequence and in parallel, together with a conservative tracer (deuterium), over the course of the first day and allowed to move through the system. Discharge-particle tracer concentration curves and the spatial distribution of particle tracer mass retained in the soil at the end of the experiment were found to be highly dependent on the timing of the tracer injection and the precipitation input and subsequent dynamic response of the water table. Overall, neglecting the total DLT recovery rate, the DLT particle tracer breakthrough trend (DNA-labelled particle tracer 4) was similar to deuterium and decreased over time with the exception of a few peaks later in the experiment. The individual particle tracer breakthrough curves suggest a complex system with different fast transport mechanisms (e.g. capillary barrier and size exclusion effect) and slow retention-release mechanisms (e.g. straining, physical-chemical adsorption), which resulted in particle tracers transferring faster than deuterium in the first 10 h of the experiment but being exceeded by deuterium soon after deuterium started to break through. The experiment not only highlights the interaction of repeated colloidal pollution events in hydrologic systems with different pre-event saturation conditions, but also the benefits of using multiple synchronous or sequential tracer applications to dissect explicit formulations of water flow and colloid transport processes in complex and dynamic hydrological systems. Such explicit process formulations could help improve understanding hydrologically-controlled transport through catchments and the quantitative prediction of these processes with water quality models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-76
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - Feb 2019


  • Colloid
  • Tracer
  • Transient
  • Transport
  • Unsaturated
  • Vadose zone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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