Researchers from the Earth and Environmental Sciences Area at Berkeley Lab are being recognized for developing advanced scientific tools that can inform how to sustainably remediate soil and groundwater contamination. Such remediation has become increasingly difficult in the wake of extreme climate events such as flooding.

Hurricane Harvey, for example, caused flooding in 13 EPA-designated Superfund sites last September. At one, EPA measured dioxin more than 2,300 times the level set to trigger a cleanup. One month after the epic flooding, research scientist Haruko Wainwright addressed the international conference of the Association for Environmental Health and Sciences Foundation in Amherst, Massachusetts, about the research underway to identify engineering and monitoring strategies that enhance the environmental resilience of sites like these.

Pictured above: Uranium plume with the funnel-and-gate groundwater treatment systems from a 3D reactive transport simulation.

During her presentation, Wainwright described how state-of-the-art reactive transport modeling allows scientists to evaluate the impact of extreme climate events such as flooding and droughts on residual contaminants in the Earth’s subsurface. Her team used the model simulations to show that one extreme flooding event could mobilize residual contaminants and lead to increased contaminant concentration in groundwater over a prolonged period of more than 10 years.

Wainwright presented findings from her team’s research into the impacts of extreme precipitation and drought on residual heavy metals and radionuclides at a former nuclear weapon production site in South Carolina, the Savannah River Site. “We believe that this study provides a framework for assessing how resilient remediated sites are to climate events,” says Wainwright. “It also can serve as a blueprint for how to go about developing engineering and monitoring solutions to enhance the resiliency of remediated sites.” Berkeley Lab has been leading the modeling and monitoring studies at the Savannah River Site for the past eight years.

Berkeley Lab participates in an effort by the Sustainable Remediation Forum (SURF) to establish a technical initiative on climate change and resilience within sustainable remediation. SURF is a nonprofit organization working to promote the use of sustainable practices during the investigation, construction, remediation, redevelopment, and monitoring of environmental cleanup sites. Wainwright’s presentation at AEHS was recognized by SURF in a December newsletter.