Trees as monitors of tritium in soil water

P. J. Kalisz, J. W. Stringer, J. A. Volpe, D. T. Clark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Tritium (3H) activities in the foliage of forest trees were found to reflect 3H activities in soil water along the perimeter of a retired low-level radioactive waste disposal site. Spatial variability in foliage 3H activity clearly delineated patterns of 3H in soil water as deep as 3 m. Late summer increases in foliage 3H activity paralleled increases in soil water activity and also suggested greater uptake of water from deep reservoirs after surface soils had dried out. White and chestnut oak (Quercus alba L. and Q. prinus L.) dominated the study area and were good monitors of 3H, regardless of tree size. Spatial patterns of 3H in foliage of these species over a 5-ha watershed were interpretable in terms of the local landscape and the probable pathways of movement of contaminated water originating on the disposal site. Results of this study suggest that trees and other deeply rooted plants may serve as simple and effective monitors of soil water contamination and may therefore be useful additions to permanent monitoring systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-70
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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