The Project ModelPROBE

The strategy of ModelPROBE is to provide an integrative tool box for cost effective site screening, site characterisation, and forensics to aid the soil thematic strategy and to be applicable in a future Soil Framework Directive. The concept will also cover survey systems and strategies that will have feedback options for acquiring the information necessary for decision making regarding remediation measures and long-term monitoring.

On the one hand ModelPROBE will provide rapid low-invasive and cost effective evaluation techniques for site screening and evaluation and on the other hand it will provide methods that are reliable and fulfil all legal requirements to identify responsibilities and polluters by environmental forensics.

The concept of ModelPROBE is to provide a step by step site characterisation strategy with smart feedback loops. Advanced geophysical site characterisation techniques combined with new types of low-cost vegetation analysis are the dominant issue of the non- or low-invasive techniques. Based on these surveys, the extension of sources, contamination levels and soil heterogeneities will be localized. Hot spots and the field conditions will be investigated by new direct push probing systems including geophysical and hydrogeological methods combined with chemical and isotopic contaminant analysis for source localisation and identification (environmental forensics). Bioprocesses such as contaminant degradation or precipitation/-mobilisation processes will be assessed by biosensors, in situ microcosms, stable isotope and biomarker analysis. Feedback loops between the different activities are required for a real step by step approach. The non- invasive techniques combined with the other methods will provide a powerful toolbox for saving money during site assessment. Normally, some single drillings are necessary due to legal aspects. However, a set of more or less “trial and error drillings” as usual in conventional site assessment can be avoided.

ModelPROBE will combine the most appropriate, recently developed low-invasive methods such as:

  1. Direct Push probing (DP) for minimal invasive geo-probing,
  2. diffusion and passive sampling for integral chemical activity and ecotoxicological site assessment,
  3. in situ microcosms (BACTRAPs) and compound specific isotope fractionation analysis (CSIA) for assessment of the microbial degradation potential, activity, and environmental forensics,
  4. gene assays and microbial electron transfer process analysis for assessment of compounds not accessible by c).

However, these methods require a minimum of sample or well availability from a site which will be provided by Direct Push probing or by conventional sampling at the reference site provided within ModelPROBE.

The work plan is divided in nine work packages focused on scientific research, development
and innovation of technologies (WPs 1-9), one on editing guidelines and user manuals, one on
dissemination of the results (WP10 and 11), and one on consortium management (WP12).


  • pre-planned sampling grids
  • off-site lab analysis
  • static workplans


  • high cost per sample
  • surprise results
  • pressure to oversample
  • multiple trips to field
Figure 1: Conventional approaches of site assessment (modified from US EPA, 2006)


  • real time sample analysis
  • rapid field decision making
  • dynamic workplans


  • reduce cost per sample
  • increase number of samples
  • reduce number of field visits
  • faster, better, cheaper


  • field analytical methods
  • decision support in the field
Figure 2: New approach of site assessment to be developed (modified from US EPA, 2006)

ModelPROBE encompasses the following work packages:

WP1: Geophysical constitutive relationships
An important prerequisite for using non-invasive geophysical methods is that the signals obtained by this method can be translated into the data we are interested in, e.g. contaminant concentrations. These geophysical constitutive relationships will be set up in WP1.

WP2: Geophysical imaging
In this WP, the relationships obtained in WP1 will be used in the field to non-invasively image the distribution of contaminants.

WP3: Geophysical data fusion
Typically, geophysical methods yield a large amount of data which have to be combined and fused to obtain the maximum information from them.

WP4: Site survey using tree monitoring technique
A promising non-invasive technique to estimate the contaminant concentrations in the groundwater is to analyse wood material from trees growing on the sites. The trees use the groundwater and take up the contaminants with the water. In many cases, these contaminants can then be found in the plant tissues.

WP5: Direct push techniques
If access to the subsurface is unavoidable, minimal techniques such as direct push will be used. They will be further improved and developed to allow the combination of as many different techniques as possible.

WP6: Microbial in-situ activity and environmental forensics
Biodegradation is the only process which removes contaminants from the environment in a sustainable way, because they are mineralised. The biological activity, however, may be affected by the toxicity of the compounds. These processes will be monitored and investigated in WP6.

WP7: Chemical activity and bioaccessibility
A site cannot be characterised simply by analysing the total concentrations of a pollutant, because their effects depend on the chemical activity and the bioavailability. WP7 will characterise the effect of the aquifer matrix on these parameters.

WP8: Spatio-temporal statistics, data comparison and assimilation
WP8 will enhance the information which can be drawn from the data by combining the data obtained by different techniques and approaches. This will result in a more appropriate site characterisation.

WP9: Field (cross) validation at European reference sites
A unique feature of ModelPROBE is the access to a number of European reference sites which are managed by WP8. These sites allow to evaluate the techniques and approaches developed in ModelPROBE against best practice.

WP10: Outcome processing and implementation
WP10 is responsible of combining the experience obtained in ModelPROBE and to make the results accessible for the public, e.g. as an operation manual for contaminated site characterisation.

WP11: Training and outreach
WP11 will disseminate the developed approaches, strategies and results of ModelPROBE in order to improve the implementation into practice of model-driven cost-effective characterisation and monitoring procedures towards sustainable remediation and revitalisation of contaminated sites.

WP12: Management
WP12 is responsible for the internal management of the project.


Project handbook now published

"Model-driven soil probing, site assessment and evaluation - Guidance on Technologies"

 Available upon request at:




Matthias Kästner

Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Leipzig, Germany