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    Long-Term Remediation of Disturbed Urban Soils


    Long Term Remediation of Disturbed Urban Soils

    By Miles S. Sax & Nina L. Bassuk

    Cornell University – Dep. Of Horticulture



    Soils found in human-impacted landscapes exhibit biogeochemical processes that are distinct and unique compared to natural landscapes. As a result of urban development soil quality is typically diminished resulting in reduced ecosystem services and the failure of landscape plant establishment.  On the Cornell campus a long-term (12-year) study measured the impacts of a soil remediation strategy on soil quality indicators. The “Scoop & Dump” process of soil remediation consisted of physically fracturing of soils and incorporating large volumes of compost (30% by volume) with the use of a backhoe or mini excavator.  To replenish incorporated organic matter, mulch was added annually. The study found that over time remediated soils exhibited reduced bulk density (g/cm3), increased active carbon (g/kg), and an increase in potentially mineralizable nitrogen (µgN/ gdwsoil/week). In comparison to non-remediated soils, the study found improvements in aggregate stability (%), available water holding capacity, total organic matter (%), active carbon (g/kg), soil resistance (PSI) and a reduction in bulk density (g/cm3).  The application of this soil remediation strategy has been used to restore soils damaged by heavy equipment, building construction and other urban impacts.  It is significant that these improvements were maintained or enhanced over time.  A study of plant growth of remediated and unimproved soil will also be discussed.  Application of this process offers an alternative to using specified soils that are often mined and shipped long distances. This technique offers a practical, research-based tool for green industry professionals, arborists and landscape contractors and has a strong potential for improving soil quality using locally sourced materials and sustainable methods.



    Miles S. Sax is currently a Masters Fellow in Cornell’s Department of Horticulture researching urban soil remediation.  In 2008, he earned his Bachelors of Science degree in Environmental Conservation Studies from the University of New Hampshire.  His professional work includes: the Morton Arboretum as a Research Assistant in Bryant Scharenbroch’s Urban Soil Science Laboratory and he was involved in the Chicago Urban Forest Study (CUFS), Arboriculture and Biochar Study (ARBOCHAR) and validation of the Urban Soil Quality Index (USQI).  At the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, he had a joint appointment in the Horticulture and Curation Departments, trained in arboriculture, landscape management and collections research, he managed the 500+ apple collection of species plants from across the world. As a botanist at the Bureau of Land Management, he collected herbarium specimens and native plant seed for habitat restoration for the Seeds of Success program associated with Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew as well as provided botanical education to the general public.

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