A European Union (EU) research project concluded that new methods might allow scientists to investigate and monitor polluted sites long term at reduced costs.

In the Model-driven Soil Probing, Site Assessment and Evaluation (ModelPROBE) project, which was coordinated by the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), scientists aimed to lower the workload of authorities and consultants and broaden understanding about contamination in part by providing a handbook detailing the methods for characterizing contaminated sites and by providing a freely accessible e-learning course.

More than 20,000 complex and large contaminated areas exist in . These sites can threaten land and water resources, create environmental and health risks, and result in economic and social costs. Their revitalization requires innovative site assessment and decontamination technologies, as well as integrated evaluation in order to optimize the options for their reuse.

With funding for the monitoring provided by the EU, a total of 15 partners from eight countries have developed new methods for assessing polluted sites and monitoring the remediation efforts. Performed within the scope of the ModelPROBE project, these methods, which are non- to low-invasive in terms of sampling and treatment of the subsoil at all, were tested, reviewed and compared with traditional methods at UFZ reference sites, such as the one in Zeitz, Germany.

Until now, for the most part, scientists have taken samples of soil and ground water to detect pollution in the subsoil. They could detect pollution, however, only if the samples were taken at the optimum points and in a sufficiently dense measurement network, making accurate detection of pollution extremely delicate. The scientists of this study have worked on time-delayed geophysical measurements in order to improve the accuracy of the probing and to record the effects of hydraulic changes and microbial activity.

The ModelPROBE project also integrates new methods of gaining information about soil contamination, such as analyzing the vegetation. Based on these non-invasive site-investigation methods, the extent of the contamination and the heterogeneity of the subsoil are then localized.

“Using direct push probes with linked geophysical and hydrological probing systems and combined with chemical, toxicological and isotope analyses, so-called hot spots then are monitored in order to determine the limits of and identify the contaminated area without fear of legal action,” said project coordinator Professor Matthias Kästner of the UFZ.

Due to the complexity of the monitoring process, scientists not only from the Environmental Biotechnology Department, but also from the Groundwater Remediation, Monitoring & Exploration Technologies, Bioanalytical Ecotoxicology and Isotope Biogeochemistry Departments were involved.

As scientists tested these methods not only in Zeitz, but also by project partners in and the , they aimed to gain a fresh insight into soil and subsoil contamination at different levels, including integrated statistical analysis and modeling, and to provide a solid foundation for future risk assessments and sustainable remediation concepts.