Two approaches were used to investigate the influence of dissolved oxygen (DO) and substrate availability on the formation and dynamics of "bioactive zones" in a water-saturated porous medium. A bioactive zone is defined as a region where a microbial community is sufficiently active to metabolize bioavailable substrates. In the first approach, microbial activity was characterized by monitoring the spatial and temporal variability of DO and aqueous substrate (salicylate and naphthalene) concentrations during miscible-displacement experiments. In the second approach, microbial activity was monitored using multiple fiber optics emplaced in the porous medium to detect luminescence produced by Pseudomonas putida RB1353, a bioluminescent reporter organism that produces light when salicylate (an intermediate of naphthalene degradation) is present. The results of both approaches show that the location and size of the bioactive zones were influenced by in situ DO and substrate availability. When DO was not a limiting factor (i.e., lower substrate input concentrations), the bioactive zone encompassed the entire column, with the majority of the microbial activity occurring between the inlet and midpoint. However, as the availability of DO became limiting for the higher substrate input experiments, the size of the bioactive zone shrank and was ultimately limited to the proximity of the column inlet. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.