sustainability of urban areas

Position Type:

  •  Lassonde Undergraduate Research Award- summer research

Position Title:  Research Assistant/summer researcher

Location:  Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence

Professor: Dr. Magdalena Krol

Department: Department of Civil Engineering

Contact for Professor:

# of positions available: 1

Project Description: 

One of the largest impediments to the sustainability of urban areas is the presence of brownfield sites, abandoned or underutilized sites where industrial and commercial activity has contaminated soil and groundwater resources. These contaminated sites are unable to be re-developed and may potentially contaminate drinking water supplies, putting human and ecological health at risk. Currently, there are approximately 20,000-30,000 contaminated brownfield sites in Canada and at least 450,000 sites in the U.S. The magnitude of the problem is compounded by the difficulty of remediating sites, it is often challenging and very costly to reduce the contamination to a level safe for re-development and human health. Therefore, it is essential to optimize our understanding of the fate and transport of contaminants present at brownfield sites, so we can better assess potential health risks and improve the efficiency of site remediation schemes.

However, in an era of anthropogenic climate change, the risk of natural disasters such as wildfires is expected to increase. This is due to shifting weather patterns producing deeper droughts and longer wildfire seasons. Many of the most at-risk regions also possess large numbers of commercial and industrial brownfield sites including those around Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles, California, both of which experienced a number of wildfires throughout 2017. 

There is a significant potential for wildfires to impact brownfield sites and, at present, there is little understanding of what these impacts may be. High temperatures associated with wildfires may cause gas generation and boiling of groundwater, as well as, altered groundwater flow patterns both of which may re-distribute the contaminant at the site, reducing the effectiveness of on-going remediation efforts. Other potential impacts include altering the geochemical conditions of the subsurface environment; low pressures and high temperatures may reduce the amount of dissolved gases such as oxygen in the subsurface, limiting the environment’s natural ability to degrade contaminants. In some scenarios, the contaminants may not be where they were prior to the wildfire, prompting an expensive re-characterization of the site. In any scenario, it is essential to understand how wildfires may impact contaminated brownfield sites. This project will improve our ability to remediate sites that have been impacted by natural disasters and, ultimately, improve our ability to sustainably develop cities in the face of climate change. 

In this research project, a state of the art numerical model developed specifically to examine contaminated soil and groundwater transport and remediation will be employed to generate some of the first-ever estimates of how wildfires may impact contaminated sites. This project will include researching the behaviour of wildfires, extending the numerical model to incorporate wildfire behaviour, running a suite of simulations and analyzing the resulting data.

Duties and Responsibilities of the student:

  • Identify data sources for wildfire occurrence and locations
  • From data sources estimate surface temperature curves during wildfires
  •  Incorporate 1D heat transfer modeling to account for heat transfer from surface to subsurface soil into sophisticated MATLAB numerical model
  •  Run a suite of matlab simulations to estimate impact of wildfires on contaminant fate and transport in soil
  •  Examine, analyze and visualize data to communicate findings

Skills and Qualifications:

  • Ability to conduct literature search and compile information from array of sources
  • Familiarity with numerical methods for engineers
  • Familiarity with Integrated Development Environments (e.g., Matlab) and general coding would be an asset
  • Strong communication skills
  • Strong organizational skills

Degrees, courses and Disciplines prerequisite*:

Open to students in Civil Engineering, specifically to those interested in environmental sustainability issues; Second year students or higher are preferred.

Stipend: TBD

Duration:  16 weeks minimum

Start Date:  05/01/2018 (estimated)

End Date:  08/31/2018 (estimated)

If you are interested in this research project, please contact Dr. Magdalena Krol at