Innovative technology to aid in environmental investigations

Published Feb. 15, 2017

The Louisville District, working with U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, will be using cutting-edge geophysical technology at three Formerly Used Defense Sites this year.

The munitions response projects—Lockbourne Air Force Base and Camp Sherman Artillery Range in Ohio and Camp Breckinridge in Kentucky—will be some of the first in the nation to use the technology for purposes of determining nature and extent of munitions contamination.

"Although this technology was developed primarily for site remediation, there are numerous benefits of using it in the characterization phase such as more reliable data obtained without the need to make physical contact with items that have the potential to explode," said Nick Stolte, environmental engineer with the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville (HNC).

Munitions response activities involve detection and inspection of buried metallic objects—or anomalies—that may be Munitions and Explosives of Concern (MEC) and because traditional munitions response actions using single loop sensors require a significant amount of digging to determine if they are MEC or other metallic debris, an innovative solution was needed.

"Often, less than one percent of the detected anomalies are actual MEC; thus, this method expends a huge amount of resources digging up items that turn out not to be hazardous," said Stolte.

The Department of Defense, through its Environmental Security Technology Certification Program, developed new geophysical sensors capable of detecting and classifying anomalies as MEC or other metallic debris for use in munitions response activities. This process, known as Advanced Geophysical Classification (AGC), allows geophysicists to locate and distinguish between ordnance and other metallic items more efficiently.

"The AGC fits physics-based models to the observed sensor responses to determine physical characteristics such as geometry and wall thickness. The physical properties are compared to a library of known MEC items to classify them based on the closest match and then the library match forms the basis for determining if anomalies are potentially MEC or other metallic debris," said Stolte.

Additionally, advanced classification has been shown to significantly reduce the cost of a munitions response.

"The project teams are developing creative and innovative approaches with the technology that will set a precedent for the Defense Environmental Restoration Program," said Stolte.

"This is a huge national initiative coming to fruition via the HNC and Louisville District partnership we have developed," said Chris Karem, chief, Louisville District Environmental Branch.

"In 2013, HNC and the Louisville District signed a memorandum of agreement to form a Combined Support Center (CSC) for munitions response. These projects are a great example of how this partnership works, with scientists and engineers from Louisville and Huntsville forming virtual teams to contribute their expertise and promote coordination and cross training," said Karem. "Nick’s expertise, dedication to excellence and excitement about this technology is contagious and has happily spread to myself and my staff."