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Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

Scientists use plants to restore ecosystem health in the Great Lakes Basin

Photo of Three-week-old hybrid poplars planted to reduce runoff and filter subsurface water flow from a landfill in southeastern Wisconsin. Three-week-old hybrid poplars planted to reduce runoff and filter subsurface water flow from a landfill in southeastern Wisconsin. Snapshot : A project funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is greatly expanding the knowledge base of watershed-level benefits of phytoremediation: the direct use of living green plants for site remediation. The project includes projecting and measuring the volume of untreated urban runoff captured or treated at these sites.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Zalesny, Ronald S., Jr. 
Research Location : United States
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2017
Highlight ID : 1232

Summary

Closed landfills, dumps, and similar sites within the Great Lakes basin contribute to nonpoint source pollution of nearshore health, especially given potential impacts of their runoff and leakage. Short rotation woody crops such as poplars and willows are ideal for phytoremediation (the direct use of plants to clean up contaminated soil and water) because they grow quickly, have extensive root systems, and hydraulic control potential. Forest Service researchers have developed phyto-recurrent selection, a tool for choosing generalist plant varieties that remediate a broad range of contaminants, or for choosing specialist plants that remediate specific pollutants. In addition, their research partners have patented phytoforensic technologies that not only use plants for remediation, but also as site delineation for nonpoint source pollutants and as monitoring tools of remediation efforts. In addition to projections of the volume of runoff captured and treated at these sites, project highlights for Fiscal Year 2017 include the refinement of phyto-recurrent selection, phytoforensics, and associated tree health assessments that led to the establishment of phytoremediation systems at five landfills in southeastern Wisconsin. In total, more than 5,000 trees were planted and additional testing was conducted to identify superior varieties for deployment at five other landfills in 2018.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology
  • University of Missouri
  • University of Novi Sad, Serbia
  • Waste Management, Inc.