DOI: 10.1029/2023wr034664 ISSN:

Pore‐Scale Modeling of PFAS Transport in Water‐Unsaturated Porous Media: Air–Water Interfacial Adsorption and Mass‐Transfer Processes in Thin Water Films

Sidian Chen, Bo Guo
  • Water Science and Technology


Air–water interfacial adsorption complicates per‐ and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) transport in vadose zones. Air–water interfaces can arise from pendular rings between soil grains and thin water films on grain surfaces, the latter of which account for over 90% of the total air–water interfaces for most field‐relevant conditions. However, whether all thin‐water‐film air–water interfaces are accessible by PFAS and how mass‐transfer limitations in thin water films control PFAS transport in soils remain unknown. We develop a pore‐scale model that represents both PFAS adsorption at bulk capillary and thin‐water‐film air–water interfaces and the mass‐transfer processes between bulk capillary water and thin water films (including advection, aqueous diffusion, and surface diffusion along air–water interfaces). We apply the pore‐scale model to a series of numerical experiments—constrained by experimentally determined hydraulic parameters and air–water interfacial area data sets—to examine the impact of thin‐water‐film mass‐transfer limitations in a sand medium. Our analyses suggest: (a) The mass‐transfer limitations between bulk capillary water and thin water films inside a pore are negligible due to surface diffusion. (b) However, strong mass‐transfer limitations arise in thin water films of pore clusters where pendular rings disconnect. The mass‐transfer limitations lead to early arrival and long tailing behaviors even if surface diffusion is present. (c) Despite the mass‐transfer limitations, all air–water interfaces in the thin water films were accessed by PFAS under the simulated conditions. These findings highlight the importance of incorporating the thin‐water‐film mass‐transfer limitations and surface diffusion for modeling PFAS transport in vadose zones.

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