Civil and Environmental Engineering

In search of the silver bullet: Progress and perspectives on contaminated subsurface characterization and restoration

November 09, 2018

12:00 p.m. - 1:20 p.m.

Mellon Auditorium, Posner Hall


Linda M. Abriola
University Professor
Director of Tufts Institute of the Environment
Tufts University


Chlorinated solvent contamination of aquifers is a recalcitrant problem that has challenged environmental engineering professionals, regulators, and site managers for decades. When solvents are introduced to the subsurface, whether through accidental spills or leaking containment facilities, they create a persistent contaminant source to flowing groundwater, posing a long term health risk to downstream receptors. 

Over the past thirty years, a great deal of research has been undertaken to advance our understanding of the migration and fate of these chlorinated compounds (also known as dense nonaqueous liquids or DNAPLs) and to develop innovative methods for their destruction and/or recovery. Despite these advances, however, it is now generally accepted that no single technology will result in complete mass removal. In addition, future progress in the management of sites containing DNAPL source zones is hampered by the difficulties associated with characterizing the location and distribution of DNAPL mass, commonly termed ‘architecture’, which tends to control contaminant plume evolution and longevity.  

This presentation provides an overview of interdisciplinary research designed to improve our ability to predict the migration and fate of DNAPLs in natural subsurface formations and to develop improved methodologies for site characterization and management. Numerical simulations and experimental observations are used to illustrate advances in our understanding of the hydrologic and abiotic and biotic transformation processes influencing DNAPL transport and persistence. The presentation highlights the severe challenges, posed by the presence of natural heterogeneities, to reliable predictions of subsurface system behavior. Recent research results demonstrate the potential utility of innovative statistical and machine learning methods for site characterization and risk assessment.

Speaker bio 

Linda M. Abriola is university professor and director of Tufts Institute of the Environment at Tufts University, where she holds appointments in the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Chemical and Biological Engineering. She is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union. From 2003 to 2015, she served as the dean of the Tufts University School of Engineering. During her tenure as dean, the Tufts Engineering School substantially expanded its administrative infrastructure, faculty, research activity, and educational programs in support of interdisciplinary education and research. Prior to joining Tufts, she was the Horace Williams King Collegiate Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Michigan.  

An expert in the multiphase transport, fate, and recovery/destruction of contaminants in the subsurface, Abriola is the author of more than 150 refereed publications and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Association for Women Geoscientist's Outstanding Educator Award (1996), the National Ground Water Association’s Distinguished Darcy Lectureship (1996), designation as an ISI Highly Cited Author in Ecology/Environment (2002), the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program Project of the Year Award in Remediation (2006, 2012), Drexel University’s Engineering Leader of the Year Award (2013), and appointment as a US Science Envoy (2016). Her numerous professional activities have included service on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board, the National Research Council (NRC) Water Science and Technology Board, and the American Society of Engineering Education Engineering Deans Council Executive Board. Current and recent professional activities include service as an elected member of the NAE governing Council, as well as membership on the National Science Foundation Engineering Directorate Advisory Committee, the National Academies Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, the National Research Council Division Committee on Engineering and Physical Sciences, the Stockholm Environment Institute USA Board of Directors, and the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences Board of Trustees. 

Abriola received her Ph.D. and Master’s degrees from Princeton University and a Bachelor's degree from Drexel University, all in Civil Engineering.


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