Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Joseph N. Ryan

Second Advisor

Diane M. McKnight

Third Advisor

George Aiken

Fourth Advisor

Harihar Rajaram

Fifth Advisor

Alexis Templeton


Rainfall experiments were conducted using intact soil cores and an instrumented soil pedon to examine the effect of physical heterogeneity and rainfall characteristics on the mobilization of colloids, organic matter, cesium, and strontium in a fractured soil. To measure the spatial variability of infiltration of colloids and contaminants, samples were collected through a 19-port grid placed below the soil core in laboratory study and in 27 samplers at multiple depths in the soil pedon in the field study. Cesium and strontium were applied to the soil cores and the soil pedon prior to mobilization experiments. Rainwater solutions of multiple ionic strengths and organic matter concentrations were applied to the soil cores and soil pedon to mobilize in situ colloids, cesium, and strontium.

The mobilization of colloids and metal cations occurred through preferential flow paths in the soil cores. Compared to steady rainfall, greater amounts of colloids were mobilized during rainfall interrupted by pauses, which indicates that the supply of colloids to be mobilized was replenished during the pauses. A maximum in the amount of mobilized colloids were mobilized during a rainfall following a pause of 2.5 d. Pauses of shorter or longer duration resulted in less colloid mobilization. Freeze-thaw cycles, a transient condition in winter, enhanced colloid mobilization and colloid-facilitated transport of cesium and strontium in the soil cores. The exchange of solutes between the soil matrix and macropores caused a hysteretic mobilization of colloids, cesium, and strontium during changes in ionic strength. Colloid-facilitated mobilization of cesium and strontium was important at low ionic strength in fractures where slow flow allowed greater exchange of flow between the fractures and the surrounding matrix. The release of cesium and strontium by cation exchange occurred at high ionic strength in fractures where there is a little exchange of pore water with the surrounding matrix. The results of the field experiment suggested that ion exchange, and not organic matter- or colloid-facilitated transport, was the dominant mechanism for mobilization of cesium and strontium through the macropores of the fractured soil.