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Distribution of Colloid Particles onto Interfaces in Partially Saturated Sand

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posted on 15.09.2005, 00:00 by Yuniati Zevi, Annette Dathe, John F. McCarthy, Brian K. Richards, Tammo S. Steenhuis
Colloids have long been known to facilitate the transport of contaminants in soils, but few direct observations have been made of transport and retention in unsaturated porous media. Studies have typically been limited to evaluation of column breakthrough curves, resulting in differing and sometimes conflicting proposed retention mechanisms. We carried out pore scale visualization studies of colloid transport in unsaturated quartz sand to directly observe and characterize colloid retention phenomena. Synthetic hydrophilic (0.8, 2.6, and 4.8 μm carboxylated polystyrene latex) and relatively hydrophobic (5.2 μm polystyrene latex) colloidal microspheres were added to steady-state water flow (0.15 mm min-1) applied to an inclined infiltration chamber. Bright field microscopy was used to determine the positions and movement of water and colloids. Confocal laser scanning microscopy was used to determine water film geometry in an unsaturated horizontal chamber. We determined mechanisms of hydrophilic colloid retention at what is generally termed the air/water/solid (AWS) interface. Based on our observations, the AWS interface is here more accurately termed the air/water meniscus/solid (AWmS) interface, denoting the region where between-grain water meniscii diminish to thin water films on the grain surfaces. Colloids were retained at the AWmS interface where the film thickness approximately equaled colloid diameters. The greater retention for hydrophilic colloids at this interface (compared to elsewhere in the solid/water interface) can be explained by the additional surface tension capillary potentials exerted on colloids at the AWmS interface. While some 0.8-μm colloids were observed in thin water films, film straining played no significant role in the retention of larger colloids. Mechanisms for slightly hydrophobic colloids differed slightly. In addition to primary retention at the AWmS interface, hydrophobic colloids attached to others already present at that interface resulting in apparent retention at the air/water (AW) interface. Attachment of hydrophobic colloids was also observed at water-solid interfaces, as hydrophobicity impelled the colloids to avoid water. Factors contributing to retention of slightly hydrophobic colloids were sand grain roughness and possibly a tendency for these colloids to flow near surfaces and interfaces, consonant with the enhanced retention of hydrophobic colloids (relative to hydrophilic colloids) observed in the literature.