TU Berlin

Urban Water InterfacesInitial project plan


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Initial project plan

State of the art and preliminary work

The role of dust and litter for the water balance and contaminant fluxes on paved urban surfaces has not yet been in the focus of urban water research. Urban dust and litter are very heterogeneous, autochthonous and allochtonous mixtures from natural and artificial constituents like quartz grains, diesel dust, lime abrasions, pollen, dog faeces, salt, cigarette stubs etc. Anthropogenic components like diesel soot, coal (technogenic), coal ashes, rubber, lime and chars can influence reactivity of contaminants and act as adsorber and therefore substantially influence the water quality of surface runoff  (Klingelmann 2009, Cornelissen et al. 2005, Kocher et al. 2005) as well as infiltrating water and finally the groundwater (Nehls et al. 2008). Such components may also alter the physical properties of the uppermost soil layers, e.g. increase (Ellerbrock et al. 2005) and decrease water repellency  phenomena (Hartmann et al. 2009, Schonsky et al. 2014) or clog porous systems (Nehls et al. 2006). Therefore, dust depositions can substantially change the water balance of paved urban soils in the small scale which has consequences for surface runoff (first flush effect), evaporation but also for heat of urban water bodies in the city scale. The urban solid waste acts also as a source of nutrients such as P from dog’s faeces and of contaminants like nicotine from cigarette stubs.

Aims and work steps

This doctoral thesis aims to study not only the quantitative but also the qualitative aspects of dust deposits and litter (in collaboration with T2). The effects of dust on water dynamics at the soil-atmosphere interface will be studied using laboratory experiments and (existing) paved weighable lysimeter (joint use with project N2). In lab column experiments, the impact of pore clogging and solute transport in seam material should be investigated. Using paved lysimeter (Nehls et al. 2011), we aim to study the efficiency of such effects for a square meter scale. The lysimeter allows both high resolution water balance studies as well as chemical experiments including toxic materials. The lysimeter is situated inside the German Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) in Berlin-Marienfelde. Selected mineralogical and chemical characteristics like adsorption / desorption / release of inorganic and organic target chemicals will be investigated for samples from Berlin and other cities (already sampled: New York, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Dakar, Moscow, Warsaw, Shanghai, Bangkok, Sydney, etc.). Thereby, the contamination and the sorption and immobilization potential of urban dust and litter should be investigated. Due to rather high contents of organic matter and high pH values the contamination potential of urban dust concerning heavy metals is rather low (Nehls et al. 2008).  Therefore, this project focuses on the role of P (from dog’s faeces and on nicotine) from cigarettes in collaboration with T2. Background is an increasing demand to reuse runoff water for tree water supply, and in the context of urban gardening. Finally, runoff water influences directly the surface water quality after heavy rainfall events (first flush). Laboratory experiments will be extended by lysimeter experiments and sampling in the city.

Connections to interfaces and doctoral theses

The project will be carried out and supervised in collaboration with N2 (quantitative aspects), and T2 sharing analytical and experimental infrastructure, samples and data. Another collaboration is planned with T2 and T4 (sulphur) because balancing sulphur in the vadose zone of urban soils is a scientific topic of the group of Wessolek since 5 years, with T5 and T6 on adsorption and desorption and with N7 on common aspects related to  modelling. Finally, Dr. Bettina Albers is engaged in improving the numerical description of the water and heat transport of this specific heterogeneous urban interface.



Cornelissen,G., Gustafsson,O., Bucheli,T.D., Jonker,M.T.O., Koelmans,A.A. & Van Noort,P.C.M. (2005): Extensive sorption of organic compounds to black carbon, coal, and kerogen in sediments and soils: Mechanisms and consequences for distribution, bioaccumulation and biodegradation. Environ. Sci. Technol., 39 (18), 6881-6895

Ellerbrock,R.H., Gerke,H.H., Bachmann,J. & Goebel,M.O. (2005): Composition of organic matter fractions for explainig wettability of three forest soils. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J., 69, 57-66

Hartmann,P., Fleige,H. & Horn,R. (2009): Physical properties of forest soils along a fly-ash deposition gradient in Northeast Germany. Geoderma, 150, 188-195

Klingelmann,E. (2009): Sorption and leaching of glyphosate on partly sealed urban areas. (doctoral thesis supervised by Wessolek,G.) Technische Universität Berlin

Nehls,T. & Shaw,R. (2010): Black carbon in soils - relevance, analysis, distribution. Soils Science Society of America. Soil Survey Horizons, 51(3): 79-84

Nehls,T., Rim,Y.N. & Wessolek,G. (2011): Technical note on measuring run-off dynamics from pavements using a new device: the weighable tipping bucket. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15 (5), 1379-1386

Schonsky,H., Peters,A. & Wessolek,G. (2014): Effects of Water Repellency on Partitioning Energy between Soil and Atmosphere - A Conceptual Approach. Pedosphere, in press

Slaughter,E., Gersberg,R.M., Watanabe,K., Rudolph,J., Stransky,C. & Novotny,T.E. (2011): Toxicity of cigarette butts, and their chemical components, to marine and freshwater fish. Tobacco Control, 20, I25-I29



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