Natural organic matter transport modeling with a continuous time random walk approach

Daniel P. McInnis, Diogo Bolster, Patricia A. Maurice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


In transport experiments through columns packed with naturally Fe/Al oxide-coated quartz sand, breakthrough curves (BTCs) of natural organic matter (NOM) displayed strong and persistent power law tailing that could not be described by the classical advection-dispersion equation. Tailing was not observed in BTCs for a nonreactive tracer (sulforhodamine B); therefore, the anomalous transport is attributed to diverse adsorptive behavior of the polydisperse NOM sample rather than to physical heterogeneity of the porous medium. NOM BTC tailing became more pronounced with decreases in pH and increases in ionic strength, conditions previously shown to be associated with enhanced preferential adsorption of intermediate to high molecular weight NOM components. Drawing from previous work on anomalous solute transport, we develop an approach to model NOM transport within the framework of a continuous time random walk (CTRW) and show that under all conditions examined, the CTRW model is able to capture tailing of NOM BTCs by accounting for differences in transport rates of NOM fractions through a distribution of effective retardation factors. These results demonstrate the importance of considering effects of adsorptive fractionation on NOM mobility, and illustrate the ability of the CTRW model to describe transport of a multicomponent solute.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)98-106
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Engineering Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2014


  • CTRW
  • NOM
  • adsorptive fractionation
  • anomalous transport

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