Rutgers-Newark research advances electrical imaging to assess pollution control technology

November 13, 2002

Environmental science researchers nationwide are working on improving technology for groundwater pollution control, one of the country's most pressing environmental initiatives.

Lee Slater, assistant professor in the department of earth and environmental science at Rutgers-Newark, is using electrical imaging for the first time nationally to assess the performance of new groundwater pollution-control technology. Slater's work is supported by a recently awarded three-year $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The imaging tool that Slater employs is similar in operation to the X-ray tomography equipment used in major hospitals. His electrical imaging is of an in-ground iron wall, known as a permeable reactive barrier; it determines how the iron wall is affected after specific types of contaminants pass through the wall. Slater's research has proved that electrical imaging provides a tool to accurately view the in-ground devices, typically hundreds of feet long and tens of feet deep.

"As certain contaminants pass through the iron wall, they chemically react with the iron and are removed from the groundwater, but the iron in the wall is impacted by this reaction. This electrical imaging will tell us how the iron in the wall is holding up and how effective the iron wall remains as contaminants and the wall interact chemically," said Slater.

Slater said that iron walls are currently used at groundwater contamination sites in New Jersey, as well as many sites nationwide. He notes that it is critical for pollution-control experts to find an effective method to monitor this type of underground technology over time and under certain geological and chemical conditions.

Slater's research focuses on showing that electrical measurements, taken via electrical imaging, will detect changes in the surface of the iron in these walls. In laboratory tests, he is monitoring the electrical response of an iron column during interactions with contaminants such as trichlorethylene, perchloroethylene, and dichloroethane.

In field research at a Kansas City U.S. Department of Energy facility, Slater will monitor geochemical indicators that will identify the key chemical responses occurring as the groundwater pollutants are degraded and minimized by the iron wall. Slater's goal for the multi-year study is to verify the causes of contaminant impacts on the iron wall using electrical imaging, in addition to geochemical and microbiological analyses.

"This research has a broad application to underground pollution control technologies and the monitoring of contaminant plumes," Slater noted.

Electrical Imaging Enhances Understanding of Peat Bogs

Slater is using electrical imaging for another project, one that supports increased understanding of the internal dynamics - the geophysics and hydrogeology -- of peat bog processes. This research is supported by a $84,078 National Science Foundation grant. In addition to researching this in his Rutgers-Newark laboratory, Slater will work with University of Maine scientists at Caribou Bog, near Bangor in central Maine. Slater and his colleagues will analyze large peat cores, collected from Caribou Bog, for hydrological and geological properties, and especially the relationship between electrical and hydrogeological properties that will help reveal the complex processes that determine peatland hydrology and vegetation. Slater's research team will monitor the movement of a sodium plume through Caribou Bog over time to provide important geological and groundwater chemistry data.

The collaborative project between researchers at Rutgers and the University of Maine aims to unravel the processes that underlie carbon and nutrient dynamics in peat lands. "Peatlands represent a large carbon reservoir and a significant source of methane gas," Slater said. "This project will demonstrate the potential benefits of including electrical geophysics in hydrogeologic assessments and wetland characterization."
For further information about this research, contact Slater at 973-353-5846 or at

Rutgers University

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