Contaminated sites pose ecological and human-health risks through exposure to contaminated soil and groundwater. Whereas we can readily locate, monitor, and track contaminants in groundwater, it is harder to perform these tasks in the vadose zone. In this study, tree-core samples were collected at a Superfund site to determine if the sample-collection location around a particular tree could reveal the subsurface location, or direction, of soil and soil-gas contaminant plumes. Contaminant-centroid vectors were calculated from tree-core data to reveal contaminant distributions in directional tree samples at a higher resolution, and vectors were correlated with soil-gas characterization collected using conventional methods. Results clearly demonstrated that directional tree coring around tree trunks can indicate gradients in soil and soil-gas contaminant plumes, and the strength of the correlations were directly proportionate to the magnitude of tree-core concentration gradients (spearman’s coefficient of -0.61 and -0.55 in soil and tree-core gradients, respectively). Linear regression indicates agreement between the concentration-centroid vectors is significantly affected by in-planta and soil concentration gradients and when concentration centroids in soil are closer to trees. Given the existing link between soil-gas and vapor intrusion, this study also indicates that directional tree coring might be applicable in vapor intrusion assessment.
Additional publication details
Contaminant gradients in trees: Directional tree coring reveals boundaries of soil and soil-gas contamination with potential applications in vapor intrusion assessment