Natural Attenuation of Groundwater Contaminants: New Paradigms, Technologies, and Applications
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Cleaning up the large number of groundwater contamination sites is a significant and complex environmental challenge. The environmental industry is continuously looking for remediation methods that are both effective and cost-efficient. Over the past 10 years there have been amazing, important developments in our understanding of key attenuation processes and technologies for evaluating natural attenuation processes, and a changing institutional perspective on when and where Monitored Natural Attenuation (MNA) may be applied. Despite these advances, restoring groundwater contaminated by anthropogenic sources to allow for unrestricted use continues to be a challenge. Because of a complex mix of physical, chemical, and biological constraints associated with active in-situ cleanup technologies, there has been a long standing focus on understanding natural processes that attenuate groundwater contaminant plumes. We will build upon basic environmental science and environmental engineering principles to discover how to best implement MNA as a viable treatment for groundwater contamination plumes. Additionally we will delve into the history behind and make predictions about the new directions for this technology. Any professional working in the environmental remediation industry will benefit from this in-depth study of MNA. We will use lectures, readings, and computational exercises to enhance our understanding and implementation of MNA. At the completion of this course, students will have updated understanding and practical tools that can be applied to all possible MNA sites.

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  • Week 1 - Course Overview and MNA as an Evolving Technology
    Welcome to the course! In the Course Overview section, you will find general information about the course as well as instructions on how to navigate the course. In the lectures for this week, we will start with history. We look at a general brief history of gr...
  • Week 2 - Biodegradation Principles
    In this series of lectures, we will learn when biodegradation can or cannot occur and what conditions are conducive to faster degradation.
  • Week 3 - Abiotic Degradation Principles
    In this series of lectures, we will focus on the principles of abiotic degradation and discuss how these processes support monitored natural attenuation. You will be learning about the key reactions and minerals that are involved in abiotic degradation. We wil...
  • Week 4 - Attenuation and Storage in Low K Zones
    In these lectures, we will focus on the idea that storage of contaminants in geologic media as a potential natural attenuation mechanism. Under this scenario, certain contaminants diffuse in low permeability media such as silt, clay, and limestone and then ev...
  • Week 5 - Dilution as an Attenuation Process - Sometimes
    In this series of lectures, we will discuss how dilution is an attenuation process – sometimes. We start with the basics, and review groundwater flow and one of the “top ten things” that every hydrogeologist should know: the distinction between Darcy Velocity...
  • Week 6 - Better Technologies: Compound Specific Isotopes & Molecular Biological Tools
    In this series of lectures, we will focus on several established and emerging methods for demonstrating that biological and other attenuation processes are occurring. We will start with an overview on lines of evidence for biological degradation processes, an...
  • Week 7 - Monitoring for MNA
    In this series of lectures, we will discuss how you should perform the monitoring that is such an important part of monitored natural attenuation (after all, it’s right there in the title!). We start off with a discussion of how data are collected, including ...
  • Week 8 - Modeling Tools to Support MNA
    In this series of lectures, we talk about models and how they can be used to understand MNA. We first start with two key MNA questions: How Long? (will the plume get) and How Far? (how long until the site is clean). Then a review of analytical computer mode...
  • Week 9 - New Directions for MNA
    This final series of lectures will cover a mélange of interesting MNA topicsl We start with the brand new ESTCP BIOPIC tool, then talk about the broad universe of MNA that extends to a lot of different contaminant classes. Then some new developments in the L...


Pedro Alvarez
George R. Brown Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Charles Newell
Vice President
GSI Environmental Inc.

David Adamson
Senior Environmental Engineer
GSI Environmental Inc.



Rice University
Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the top 20 universities in the U.S. and the top 100 in the world. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy.



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