• We investigate pollutants and nutrients in the environment.

  • We elucidate processes and mechanisms in the field and laboratory.

  • We explore biochemical reactions that shape the environment.

  • We study DNA preservation in rocks to investigate environmental biomes.

  • We explore the nanoscale to understand processes of global relevance.

  • We use models to quantify processes and mechanisms.


Latest publications

Benchmarking biochar with activated carbon for immobilizing leachable PAH and heterocyclic PAH in contaminated soils

Remediation of residually contaminated soils remains a widespread problem. Biochar can immobilize polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). However, studies on its ability to immobilize PAH and N, S, and O substituted PAH (hetero-PAH) in real soils, and benchmarking with commercial activated carbon are missing. Here, we compared the ability of pristine biochar (BC), steam-activated biochar (SABC), and commercial activated carbon (AC) to immobilize PAH and hetero-PAH. The three carbons were tested on soils from four different contaminated sites in Austria. Different amendment rates (w/w) of the carbons were investigated (BC: 1.0, 2.5, and 5%; SABC: 0.5, 1.0, and 2.0%; AC: 1%) in batch experiments to cover meaningful ranges in relation to their performance. SABC performed better than AC, removing at least 80% PAH with the lowest application rate of 0.5%, and achieving a complete removal at an application rate of 1.0%. BC performed slightly worse but still acceptable in residually contaminated soils (40 and 100% removal at 1 and 5% amendment, respectively). The ability of BC and SABC to immobilize PAH decreased as the PAH-molar volume increased. PAH with three or more rings were preferentially removed by AC compared to SABC or BC. This can be explained by the difference in pore size distribution of the carbons which could limit the accessibility of PAH and hetero-PAH to reach sorption sites for π- π electron donor-acceptor interactions, which drive PAH and hetero-PAH sorption to carbons. Column percolation tests confirmed the results obtained in batch tests, indicating, that decisions for soil remediation can be derived from simpler batch experiments. In soil samples with 1% BC, a reduction of over 90% in the total concentration of PAH in the leached water was observed. Overall, BC and SABC were demonstrated to be valid substitutes for AC for stabilizing residually contaminated soils.

Carlotta Carlini, Sampriti Chaudhuri, Oliver Mann, Daniel Tomsik, Thorsten Hüffer, Nicolas Greggio, Diego Marazza, Thilo Hofmann, Gabriel Sigmund
2023 - Environmental Pollution, in press

Acesulfame allows the tracing of multiple sources of wastewater and riverbank filtration

Aquifers providing drinking water are increasingly threatened by emerging contaminants due to wastewater inputs from multiple sources. These inputs have to be identified, differentiated, and characterized to allow an accurate risk assessment and thus ensure the safety of drinking water through appropriate management. We hypothesize, that in climates with seasonal temperature variations, the sweetener acesulfame potassium (ACE) provides new pathways to study wastewater inputs to aquifers. Specifically, this study investigates the temperature-driven seasonal oscillation of ACE to assess multiple sources of wastewater inputs at a riverbank filtration site. ACE concentrations in the river water varied from 0.2 to 1 μg L−1 in the cold season (T < 10 °C) to 0–0.1 μg L−1 in the warm season (T > 10 °C), due to temperature-dependent biodegradation during wastewater treatment. This oscillating signal could be traced throughout the aquifer over distances up to 3250 m from two different infiltration sources. A transient numerical model of groundwater flow and ACE transport was calibrated over hydraulic heads and ACE concentrations, allowing the accurate calculation of mixing ratios, travel times, and flow-path directions for each of the two infiltration sources. The calculated travel time from the distant infiltration source was of 67 days, while that from the near source was of 20 days. The difference in travel times leads to different potential degradation of contaminants flowing into the aquifer from the river, thus demonstrating the importance of individually assessing the locations of riverbank infiltration. The calibrated ACE transport model allowed calculating transient mixing ratios, which confirmed the impact of river stage and groundwater levels on the mixing ratio of the original groundwater and the bank filtrate. Therefore, continuous monitoring of ACE concentrations can help to optimize the management of the water works with the aim to avoid collection of water with very short travel times, which has important regulative aspects. Our findings demonstrate the suitability of ACE as a transient tracer for identifying multiple sources of wastewater, including riverbank filtration sites affected by wastewater treatment plant effluents. ACE seasonal oscillation tracking thus provides a new tool to be used in climates with pronounced seasonal temperature variations to assess the origins of contamination in aquifers, with time and cost advantages over multi-tracer approaches.

Miguel Angel Marazuela, Giovanni Formentin, Klaus Erlmeier, Thilo Hofmann
2023 - Environmental Pollution, in press

Seasonal biodegradation of the artificial sweetener acesulfame enhances its use as a transient wastewater tracer

The persistence of the artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium (ACE) during wastewater treatment and subsequently in the aquatic environment has made it a widely used tracer of wastewater inputs to both surface water and groundwater. However, the recently observed biodegradation of ACE during wastewater treatment has questioned the validity of this application. In this study, we assessed the use of ACE not only as a marker of wastewater, but also as a transient wastewater tracer that allows both the calculation of mixing ratios and travel times through the aquifer as well as the calibration of transient groundwater flow and mass transport models. Our analysis was based on data obtained in a nearly 8-year river water and groundwater sampling campaign along a confirmed wastewater-receiving riverbank filtration site located close to a drinking water supply system. We provide evidence that temperature controls ACE concentration and thus its seasonal oscillation. River water data showed that ACE loads decreased from 1.5–4 mg·s−1 in the cold season (December to June; T<10 °C) to 0–0.5 mg·s−1 in the warm season (July to November; T>10 °C). This seasonal variability of >600% was detectable in the aquifer and preserved >3 km, with ACE concentrations oscillating between <LOQ in the warm season up to 1 μg·L−1 in the cold season. The large seasonal variation in ACE concentrations during wastewater treatment, compared to the other sweeteners (sucralose, cyclamate, and saccharin) and chloride enables its use as a transient tracer of wastewater inflows and riverbank filtration. In addition, the arrival time of the ACE concentration peak can be used to estimate groundwater flow velocity and mixing ratios, thereby demonstrating its potential in the calibration of groundwater numerical models.

Miguel Angel Marazuela, Giovanni Formentin, Klaus Erlmeier, Thilo Hofmann
2023 - Water Research, 232: in press

Lecture series