Faculty Advisor

Paul Mathisen

Faculty Advisor

John Bergendahl


"A number of fluorometric techniques have been applied to characterize contamination associated with oil discharges and spills in the environment. While these techniques provide quick and lower cost alternatives to the many of the advanced techniques for characterizing oil-related constituents, their applicability still isn’t fully understood. The objectives of this research were to understand the characteristics of organic transport in a linked surface-water/ground-water system, and develop some practical approaches using fluorometry to characterize the pathways of organic transport. The approach included modeling, field sampling and comparisons of laboratory analyses to assess basic field fluorometry techniques for characterizing sources and distributions of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) associated with oil discharges. The primary field site included a canal and nearby river, which resulted in generally uniform hydraulic gradient, such that petroleum and PAH contamination at the site could be characterized. Historical data provided general information on the distribution of contamination. Modeling using the Modflow groundwater flow package provided basic information on groundwater flow pathways and rates. Samples were collected from the canal, groundwater, the river and a treatment facility. Additional samples were collected from Bayou Corne sinkhole in Lousiana and the Deepwater Horizon crude oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The samples were analyzed for fluorometric absorbance using a 10AU field fluorometer, a Shimadzu absorbance spectrometer and a LS5 luminescence spectrometer (which provided fluorescence over a spectrum of frequencies). Additional analyses were completed using a gas chromatograph with a flame ionization detector (GC-FID) to provide a more complete qualitative description of the oil composition. Analysis of the results from the 10-AU field fluorometer confirmed the capability of the field fluorometer to detect organic contamination resulting from crude and refined oil spills. Absorbance spectrometer results demonstrated possibility of using the PAH absorbance spectra to distinguish between the different types of oil, although more detailed analyses using various types of oil is recommended. The results using the luminescence spectrometer were consistent with GC FID results, and provided useful comparisons indicating the characteristics of fresh and weathered oil. The comparisons provide insight into the applicability of fluorometric approaches for characterizing transport pathways and concentrations of organic constituents associated with discharges of oil and other PAHs."


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Civil & Environmental Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





fluorescence spectra, field fluorometer, absorbance spectra, fluorometric techniques, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons