Movement of Contaminants Activity Page

Kevin Svitana, Otterbein College
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This module is focused on increasing the users understanding and familiarity with the fate and transport of contaminants. Video clips of sand tank models showing the movement of contaminants in subsurface porous media are included. The sand tank models provide a visual guide to help see how different geologic materials with different permeability's effect the movement of fluids and ultimately the distribution of contaminants.

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Learning Goals

This module is structured to help the user the movement of contaminants in subsurface porous media. The goal is to help students understand some surface migration of contaminants, so that they may create visuals that can be utilized as part of expert witness testimony.

Context for Use

This module should be dovetailed with previous modules that dealt with groundwater, groundwater flow induced by pumping, and surface water interaction with groundwater. This module further develops the interrelation between surface water and subsurface water and the ability of these waters to transmit contaminants. Instruction of this module should be split between lecturer and hands-on activities or computer simulations. Included on this website are video clips of sand tanks which demons visually demonstrate the migration of "contaminants". If there are groundwater remediation sites proximal to the classroom, a field trip to view the pumping and treatment system would help students visualize how remediation is achieved.

Description and Teaching Materials

The initial activities should focus on data contouring to get an appreciation of the source and distribution of contaminants. From that basic skill students can computer simulations showing the movement of contaminants, building to complex models like the ones shown on the attached link. These activities should first allow students to understand the distribution of contaminants associated with a normal attenuated flow, then appreciate how complex a system can be when flow is influenced by on and off pumping cycles and river water infiltration.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The key to success for this module is having students "see" how things move under ground. Video clips of sand tank models, as well as animations developed by Dr. E. Scott Bair and his graduate students are available to help with visualization of subsurface migration.


Testing and laboratory exercises can be used for assessment with this module. It's recommended that the initial phase of this module center around lecture connecting Darcy's Law and contaminant fate and transport, then follow on exercises where students do contouring and possibly even creating sand tank models. These exercises can be assessed with a series of demonstrations, turn-in assignments (contouring), and questions related to the demonstrations.

References and Resources

There are several webpages on SERC's website that can be integrated into this module. They are: Using Scant Data in Hydrogeology and Using the EXCEL Woburn Flow and Transport Model to Teach Modeling Concepts

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