Title page for ETD etd-04232003-094549

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Corack, Edward J
Author's Email Address ecorack@vt.edu
URN etd-04232003-094549
Title Impact of Phytoremediation System on Groundwater Flow in a Shallow Aquifer System
Degree Master of Science
Department Civil and Environmental Engineering
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Widdowson, Mark A. Committee Chair
Kibler, David F. Committee Member
Novak, John T. Committee Member
  • groundwater modeling
  • Oneida
  • transpiration
  • poplar
  • phytoremediation
  • creosote
  • GMS
  • evapotranspiration
Date of Defense 2003-02-07
Availability restricted
There are many methods for cleaning up contaminated soil and groundwater. Phytoremediation is an engineered method that utilizes plants and trees to remove or immobilize inorganic and organic contaminants. The plants and trees can contain contaminant plumes, uptake the contaminants, or aid in the degradation of the

contaminants through several poorly understood mechanisms.

Hybrid poplar trees were planted to contain a creosote contaminant plume at the study-site in Oneida, Tennessee. This research looks at how the trees will affect groundwater flow in the site. This is accomplished with the groundwater modeling program MODFLOW. The trees are simulated using the Evapotranspiration Package within MODFLOW, within the GMS modeling platform, to produce a two-dimensional unconfined aquifer viewpoint groundwater model.

Site characterization, setup, and rationale are provided. The modeling methodology including calibration, sensitivity analysis, non-unique solution check, and verification are also provided. The modeling methodology included steady-state model calibration at the study-site to match observed field data; precursory steady-state and subsequent practice transient calibrations at the site; and incorporation of the simulation of evapotranspiration in the final transient model calibrations at the site.

The results show that a phytoremediation system consisting of densely-planted hybrid poplar trees can indeed impact groundwater flow, although not to the extent that clearly would contain a creosote contaminant plume. Various input parameters including specific yield, transient recharge, starting heads, evapotranspiration rates, and evapotranspiration extinction depths impacted MODFLOW model sensitivity in transient calibrations. Varying the time steps in post-precipitation stress periods did not significantly impact the model output. The interception trench conductance played a minimal role in the calibration, but trench groundwater collection data was lacking, and the trench was frequently in need of maintenance. Further suggested data requirements include more frequently collected rainfall and piezometer data, as well as the installation of more piezometers outside the model domain contained in this study.

Using the Evapotranspiration Package in MODFLOW provided more realistic and authentic results than using the Well Package (used in a previous study of the site by Panhorst in 2000) to simulate evapotranspiration. The Evapotranspiration Package in MODFLOW incorporates transpiration extinction depths that prevent transpiration when the water table drops below a certain depth. Further suggested program development includes incorporating an asymptotic function for transpiration rates and allowing the Evapotranspiration Package to import evapotranspiration rates, extinction depths, and elevations. It may be deduced from this impact of flow that the tree system will aid in containment of a contaminant plume, but at the trees current growth stage, and with the coal layer present at the site, the containment is limited.

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