Applied Ecosystem Services, LLC

The Environmental Issues Doctor

Photo of Sediment Sampling Analysis


Estimated reading time: 1 minutes

Collecting sediment samples for analysis of contaminants–particularly in river systems–is not just a matter of going out with a bucket and shovel. In fact, it is much more complex than a water quality survey, aquatic biota survey, or any terrestrial sampling program. Monitoring of sediment contaminants frequently is done to determine whether the sediments are a sink or a source of the chemicals of interest, and to evaluate the effects of the contaminants on the aquatic ecosystem as a whole.

When contaminated sediments may be present there is the potential for very expensive liability payments by bank-side industries, so the sampling program must be absolutely of the highest caliber; that is, it must be technically sound and legally defensible. The costs of laboratory analyses can far exceed the costs of collection of materials to be analyzed1. This means that costs can greatly exceed budgets if sediments must be collected and analyzed again because the original samples were collected at inappropriate locations or did not adequately represent the area of interest. Other factors that influence the cost of the study include the selection and use of sediment sampling equipment, sample handling, storage, and transport to the analytical laboratory.

This work was originally published on the Applied Ecosystem Services, LLC web site at

It is offered under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license. In short, you may copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format as long as you credit Dr. Richard Shepard as the author. You may not use the material for commercial purposes, and you may not distribute modified versions.

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    Natural resource companies do not object to environmental regulations that are consistent and support predictability. Consistency and predictability are critical for decision making under conditions of uncertainty. Natural ecosystems are inherently variable across a broad range of temporal and spatial scales; climate change, drought, and societal desires for sustainability make people more aware of this variability. The science used for development and enforcement of environmental regulations has not kept pace with developments in ecological theory and the analytical tools capable of describing, characterizing, classifying, and predicting natural ecosystems as well as distinguishing natural variability from anthropogenic changes.
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    Environmental regulations are supposed to be based on sound science, yet too often either that science is not presented or is deemed insuffiient by permit applicants and others. The result can be administrative appeals and legal challenges that increase time and costs for the applicant and indecision by regulatory agency staff. At their core, all environmental regulations ask three questions to assess compliance with the relevant law or statute: Will the permitted activity adversely effect the natural environment (forecasting)?

Contact me to learn more about sediments and soils.