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Spatial contaminant heterogeneity: quantification with scale of measurement at contrasting sites

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 20:36 authored by Paul D Taylor, Michael H Ramsey, Philip J Potts
Material within the terrestrial environment is rarely homogeneously distributed, either spatially or temporally. One consequence of heterogeneity is that uncertainty is usually generated in measurements that are taken with the aim of characterising the environment. For example, a measurement of analyte concentration within soil taken from one sampling location on contaminated land can vary substantially when compared against another sample taken at effectively the same nominal location. The measurement uncertainty arising from the heterogeneity can substantially limit the reliability of the interpretations made upon environmental investigations. The sampling uncertainty usually outweighs the analytical uncertainty from the laboratory, often by a factor of 20 or more. One approach to reducing the uncertainty is to design a more suitable sampling strategy. This might be achieved by predicting the degree of heterogeneity prior to the investigation, but this is often difficult to achieve accurately. Another approach, which was investigated here, is to actually characterise the heterogeneity prior to the main investigation using rapid and inexpensive technology, such as in situ measurement techniques. In situ portable X-ray fluorescence ( PXRF) and X-ray microprobe ( XMP) techniques were employed to test the feasibility of this approach. Two contrasting contaminated land sites were chosen to characterise the two-dimensional spatial heterogeneity of heavy metal contamination in topsoil at a range of scales ( 50 m to 0.001 m). The spatial heterogeneity of contaminants, expressed as relative standard deviations, was found to differ between the two sites by a factor of two, largely due to the mode of deposition of pollution. The study also indicated that the heterogeneity did not change systematically with the scale of measurement between sampling locations at either site


Publication status

  • Published


Journal of Environmental Monitoring




Royal Society of Chemistry





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Department affiliated with

  • Evolution, Behaviour and Environment Publications

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  • Yes

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