Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


College of Science and Mathematics


Earth and Environmental Studies

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Michael A. Kruge

Committee Member

Huan E. Feng

Committee Member

Joshua C. Galster


The lower Passaic River has been heavily contaminated during the twentieth century due to the industrial activity within its watershed. The geochemistry of four deep cores was explored using an environmental forensics approach. Pyrolysis gaschromatography/ mass spectrometry (Py-GC/MS) and grain size analysis was performed in conjunction with radiometric analysis to understand the sediment and contaminant transport patterns. The distinctive molecular finger prints were identified by employing chromatogram fingerprints, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon distribution, principal component analysis, and chemostratigraphy. Radiometric analysis and observations of chlorinated contaminant patterns allowed for average sample depths to be correlated to approximate ages. Additionally three distinct zones were observed in all cores including a disturbed Cs layer mid core, and a relatively undisturbed profile in the upper and deeper section of the cores. The main focus of the geochemistry was on organic material, including more precisely the investigation of possible anthropogenic hydrocarbon sources by identifying petrogenic and pyrogenic signatures and observing trends in biomass input. Two trends emerged with respect to the former. The two cores were observed to have zones with a relatively natural signature and zones with a mixed combustion/petroleum signature and two cores were observed to contain separate zones which were impacted more heavily by petrogenic sources or pyrogenic sources. Grain size analysis confirmed that the majority of the samples were comprised of silt, but a sand lens was observed around 5 meters depth. This sand lens correlates with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon concentrations and may reflect a subsurface migration of coal tar, possibly from a nearby site of a former manufactured gas plant. Biomass relationships were evaluated using the VGI ratio, which compares terrestrial to aquatic inputs in order to observe background trends in sediment transport and erosional/depositional events. The general observation is an oscillating pattern displaying the system significantly impacted during flood events.

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