Groundwater contamination from chlorinated solvents on military installations is a significant environmental liability for the Department of Defense. Many of the dense nonaqueous phase liquid (DNAPL) source zones developed decades ago as a result of historical practices and continue to contaminate groundwater today. In order to successfully treat this contamination, it is essential to understand the physical characteristics of the source zones.

Dr. Linda Abriola and colleagues at Tufts University, collaborating with the Air Force Academy, have developed innovative tools that for the first time can provide key information about a source zone’s structure and characteristics, also referred to as the architecture. This work, which combines high-end computational techniques and physical models, can help explain why contamination persists, how long it will persist, and what the best options are for treating it.

Whether a source zone will persist for decades or centuries is believed to be related to the ratio of ganglia to pools of contamination. DNAPL source zones often occur in two different forms in the subsurface: as pools of contamination or as ganglia, thin web-like shapes, that seep into the pores of the subsurface. Knowing the ratio of ganglia to pools will help site managers decide on the most effective treatment to use for a particular contaminated area. The field tools developed by Dr. Abriola and her team provide the means to determine the best treatment approach, thereby reducing the time and resources DoD must spend to remediate this contamination. These tools also have immediate and wide applicability to the remediation of a large number of non-military sites that require remediation of subsurface DNAPL contamination.

For this outstanding work, Dr. Abriola and her team received a 2012 SERDP Project of the Year Award. Project Overview 

Project Team

Tufts University

  • Linda M. Abriola
  • Eric L. Miller
  • Kurt D. Pennell
  • C. Andrew Ramsburg
  • Natalie L. Cápiro
  • Itza Mendoza-Sanchez
  • Rhiannon E. Ervin
  • Ali Boroumand
  • Douglas I. Walker
  • Hao Zhang

U.S. Air Force Academy

  • John A. Christ