How can you detect arsenic in soil from a satellite?
May 15, 2008 10:50 AM   Subscribe

How is it possible to detect arsenic in soil from a satellite?

Fort Reno in DC was recently closed down because they identified arsenic in the soil from a satellite, but I'm not sure how that would be possible. Can you do x-ray fluoresence from space? Is there some other technique that's available that can see beneath the surface of land from that far away?
posted by destro to Science & Nature (3 answers total)
Best answer: Arsenic toxicity induced chlorosis symptoms in the youngest leaves of rice seedlings by decreasing chlorophyll content. Chlorosis is a yellowing of leaf tissue due to a lack of chlorophyll. I am going to speculate that this change in leaf color could be detected by satellite. Specific measurements of concentration were probably made on-site by traditional chemical tests.
posted by jepler at 11:16 AM on May 15, 2008

Best answer: Slonecker said he was using a satellite imaging system that could detect grass and other vegetation growing in arsenic contaminated soil. One image pinpointed a huge area in the park.

A soil sample report confirming the findings caused the National Park Service to close the park.

From the article it looks like they were using satellite images to map areas of plant growth, and when they came across an anomaly they tested the soil.

Slonecker is on the contact page for a EPA program doing just that, you could call him.
posted by Science! at 11:18 AM on May 15, 2008

This was pure luck that they spotted it. They were actually looking for anomalies in an area where they had previously found old buried munitions from WW2. The scan happened to be wider than they planned for, and picked up the problems at Ft. Reno Park that they looked at more closely.
posted by worker_bee at 1:03 PM on May 15, 2008

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