Monitoring subsurface contamination using tree branches

Gayathri Gopalakrishnan, M. Cristina Negri, Barbara S. Minsker, Charles J. Werth

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This paper proposes a method of assessing the distribution of chlorinated solvents in soil and ground water using tree branches. Sampling branches is a potentially more cost-effective and easier method than sampling tree cores, with less risk of damage to the tree. This approach was tested at Argonne National Laboratory, where phytoremediation is being used to remove tetrachloroethene (PCE), trichloroethene (TCE), and carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) from soil and ground water. The phytoremediation system consists of shallow-rooted willows planted in an area with contaminated soil and deep-rooted poplars planted in an area with clean soil and contaminated ground water. Branch samples were collected from 126 willows and 120 poplars. Contaminant concentrations from 31 soil borings and six monitoring wells were compared to those from branches of adjacent trees. Regression equations with correlation coefficients of at least 0.89 were obtained, which were found to be chemical specific. Kriged profiles of TCE concentration based on soil and willow branch data were developed and showed good agreement. Profiles based on ground water data could not be developed due to lack of sufficient monitoring wells for a meaningful statistical analysis. An analytical model was used to simulate TCE concentrations in tree branches from soil concentrations; the diffusion coefficient for TCE in the tree was used as the fitting parameter and the best-fit value was two orders of magnitude greater than literature values. This work indicates that tree branch sampling is a useful approach to assess contaminant distribution and potentially to determine where to locate monitoring wells or perform detailed soil analysis. Further research is necessary prior to using this method as a quantitative monitoring tool for soil and ground water.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-74
Number of pages10
JournalGround Water Monitoring and Remediation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology


Dive into the research topics of 'Monitoring subsurface contamination using tree branches'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this