The production and testing of nuclear weapons has generated considerable subsurface legacy contamination — contamination that the DOE has the responsibility to locate, clean up, and monitor. Metals and radionuclide contaminants pose a particularly daunting challenge for DOE, because they do not degrade to benign products (or do so only through very slow radioactive decay).
Complicating the cleanup effort is the complexity of the subsurface system, where natural variability in hydrological, microbiologic, and geochemical properties exist over a hierarchy of length scales, which influence the distribution of contaminant plumes and their responses to remediation treatments.
Research within LBNL’s Sustainable Systems Science Focus Area is aimed at meeting some of the most difficult subsurface challenges that currently inhibit a predictive understanding of subsurface flow and transport relevant to environmental stewardship. The 'systems' term emphasizes the SFA characteristic of exploring hypothesis that link fundamental hydrological, biological, and geochemical processes with integrated system behavior. Three main challenges: Biogeochemical Pathways, Flowpath Evolution, and Plume Mobility are being tackled within the Systems Framework. Several crosscutting themes and a common investigative approach facilitate fertilization across the sustainable systems SFA.
Research in the Systainable Systems Scientific Focus Area is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research Division.