Horseshoe Falls, Canada

Welcome to Avner Vengosh Research Group web site!

The major theme of this research group is the elucidation of magnitude and mechanisms of water quality degradation and impacts on ecosystems and human health. The geochemical and isotopic variations in water are used as natural “fingerprints” for tracing the origin, migration, and fate of contaminants in the environment.


Major components of research at Vengosh’s lab

Lab News and events:

January 21, 2015: A new paper on the direct measurement of the boron isotope fractionation factor between boron species was published in Earth and Planetary Science Letter. The boron isotopic composition of calcium carbonate skeletons is a promising proxy method for reconstructing paleo-ocean pH and atmospheric CO2 from the geological record. Although the boron isotope methodology has been used extensively over the past two decades to determine ancient ocean-pH, the actual value of the boron isotope fractionation factor (epsilon) between the two main dissolved boron species, 11B(OH)3 and 10B(OH)4-, has remained uncertain. The new study provides, for the first time, an independent empirical fractionation factor (26.0 ±1.0 permil; 25◦C), determined by direct measurements of B(OH)3 in seawater and other solutions. Boric acid was isolated by preferential passage through a reverse osmosis membrane under controlled pH conditions. The revised methodology lays the foundation for a more accurate determination of ocean paleo-pH through time. The paper is posted here: Boron isotope fractionation factor


January 14, 2015: A new study on the occurrence of iodide, bromide, and ammonium  in oil and gas wastewater was published in Environmental Science and Technology. The study shows high levels of iodide and ammonium in both hydraulic fracturing fluids and produced water from conventional oil and gas wells. The high correlation of ammonium to chloride suggest that these contaminants are geogenic and their presence in formation waters is controlled by the composition of the formation rocks. Elevated levels of iodide and ammonium (up to 50 times the EPA regulation for ammonium) were found also in effluents that are discharge to waterways from there disposal sites in PA and a spill in WV that cause direct contamination of the associated streams and rivers. Duke press release of the study is posted here. The study was reported by numerous news clips including the Daily Climate, Think Progress, Scientific American, Science news, Akron Beacon Journal, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, News and Observer, Science News, Water World, Digital Journal, Newsroom America, Eagleford Texas, Salon, Environmental Working Group, and Charleston Gazette. The paper is posted here: es504654n_iodide and ammonium

NSF reports on this study by the news clip (see the second item).

Franklin outfall

January 9, 2015: A new study on the occurrence of arsenic in groundwater and the exposure of local residents in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam was published in Science of Total Environment. The study shows high level of arsenic (up to 1,000 ppb) in groundwater adjacent to the Mekong River. High arsenic was found particularly in reduced and low-saline groundwater. Arsenic content in nails collected from local residents was significantly correlated to As in
drinking water (R=0.56, p<0.001). Survey data show that the ratio of arsenic in nail to arsenic in water varied among residents, reflecting differential arsenic bioaccumulation in specific exposed sub-populations. The paper is posted here Arsenic exposure in Mekong Delta.


December 16, 2014: A new study on the use of boron and strontium isotopes as tracers for the impact of coal ash contaminants on the environment was published in Environmental Science & Technology. The study examined the boron and strontium isotopic fingerprints of coal ash originated from coals of different basins in the USA as well as specific case studies where coal ash has impacted the environment: the TVA coal ash spill in TN, the discharge of coal ash effluents to waterways in NC and impacted water resources. The study found the integration of boron and strontium isotopes with water geochemistry could provide a unique and powerful tool for delineating and quantifying the impact of coal ash on the environment. Duke press release of the paper is here. The paper is posted here: es503746v_coal ash tracers.


November 7, 2014: Duke University and Duke Kunshan University (DKU) water-energy workshop, Fairmont Hotel, Kunshan, China, chaired by Avner Vengosh and Marc Deshusses. Over 50 participants attend the water-energy workshop held along Yangcheng Lake, in Kunshan. The workshop addressed key interdisciplinary issues related to water and energy development in China, including oil and gas, coalbed methane, and unconventional shale gas and hydraulic fracturing. The workshop  presented data on water availability and quality in China, energy development, environmental effects of the different energy development particularly, derived from hydraulic fracturing, water law, water policy, and treatment technologies. The workshop aimed to explore possible research networks and collaboration of Duke and DKU faculty with Chinese colleagues engaged with water and energy research. Speakers included scientists from different academic institutions in China and Duke faculty addressing both scientific, engineering, and policy aspects. For the program and details see here.



October 20, 2014: A new study of tracing hydraulic fracturing fluids in the environment by using boron and lithium isotopes was published in Environmental Science and Technology. This is the first study to use boron and lithium isotopic fingerprints for delineating hydraulic fracturing fluids in contaminated water and distinguish their impacts from other sources of contamination. The distinguished geochemical signature of flowback water is hypothesized to be derived from mobilization of boron and lithium from exchangeable sites on clay minerals during hydraulic fracturing process. Duke press release of the paper is here. NSF funded the project and also issued a press release. The study was reported by numerous news clips including News and Records, Think Progress, Laboratory Equipment, Headlines and Global news, Environmental leaders, News and Observer, Water World, and Earth Magazine. The paper is posted es5032135.TOC graphic

September 24, 2014: A new study on the potential formation of highly carcinogenic disinfection byproduct from  hydraulic fracturing fluids diluted by river  water was published in Environmental Science and Technology. The study shows that even a small fraction, as low as 0.01 percent up to 0.1 percent of hydraulic fracturing fluids in disinfected river water that is used for drinking could result in the formation of disinfection byproducts in drinking water utilities located downstream from disposal or spill sites of hydraulic fracturing fluids. ACS press release of the study is  here. The paper is post here.es5028184

September 15, 2014: A new Duke study on stray gas contamination in drinking water wells located near shale gas drilling sites in Pennsylvania and Texas was published in the Proceedings of national Academy of Science of the USA. The new study established new geochemical methodology based on the integration of noble gas geochemistry and hydrocarbons ratios and  isotopes to distinguish between naturally occurring methane flux to shallow aquifers and methane contamination derived directly from leaking from shale gas wells. The paper is posted here: PNAS-2014-Darrah-1322107111. More information on the paper is in Duke press release. The study was covered by hundreds of news clips from all over the world  including the New York Times, USA Today, BBC, the Telegraph, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Bloomberg, the Guardian, Washington Post, Weather ford Democrat, Dallas morning News, Public News Service , Salon, as well as radio stations including NPR WUNC, the John Gambling Show, NYC, and Hoppy Kercheval of Metronews, West Virginia Radio Network.

August 8-12, 2014: Future hydraulic fracturing and shale gas exploration in North Carolina: The News and Observer article on research at Duke on hydraulic fracturing and editorial  on the lack of North Carolina officials to use the scientific data. Also Vengosh’s interview to Capital Tonight, Time Warner Cable News is linked here.

July 29, 2014: A Response to Comment on “High Naturally Occurring Radioactivity in Fossil Groundwater from the Middle East” was published in Environmental Science and Technology (es501140b)

June 26 – July 7, 2014: Avner Vengosh visit to South Africa  as part of a water-quality baseline research at the Karoo Basin. Dr. Vengosh gave public presentations at the University of Cape Town and University of Pretoria and also participated in two-days workshop entitled “Review of  risks to water resources from unconventional gas exploration and production in South Africa and water science plan for unconventional gas development (Workshop-outcomes-unconventional-gas-risks to water).

May 1, 2014: Avner Vengosh presents a keynote talk at the EGU meeting in Vienna, Austria: “Risks to Water Resources from Shale Gas Development and Hydraulic Fracturing in the United Sates”



March 7, 2014: A new paper “A Critical Review of the Risks to Water Resources from Unconventional Shale Gas Development and Hydraulic Fracturing in the United States” was published in Environmental Science &Technology. This paper provides a critical review of all available literature on the possible risks of water resources from shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing. This is one of the few attempts to provide a comprehensive and objective evaluation of the state of knowledge with respect the possible effects of shale gas and hydraulic fracturing on water resources in the US. (es405118y)

TOC Art_final

March 6, 2014: Our study on the environmental effects of shale Gas wastewater Named ES&T’s Best Science Paper for 2013 (!). Out of 1,600 papers published  in ES&T during 2013, the journal editors selected our paper. The ES&T announcement and interview with the paper authors Nat Warner and Avner Vengosh is presented here. Duke press release is presented here. A link to the paper is provided here.

Environmental Science & Technology


February 5, 2014: Avner Vengosh giving a talk on the “Myths and Reality of Water Contamination from Fracking” at Duke Center for International Studies.

December 31, 2013: The paper on elevated level of radioactivity in hydtraulic fracturing fluids and radium accumulation on sediments in a disposal site in PA was selected for the Top 11 Energy & Environmental Infographics of 2013.

December 24, 2013: A new study on the beneficial use of blending hydraulic fracturing fluids with acid mine drainage shows that much of the radioactivity of flowback water from shale gas would be reduced due to co-precipitation of Sr-barite minerals. The study was published in Environmental Science and Technology es_HF-AMD mix. See Duke Press Release. The study was reported Nature World News, NPR-PA, ABC-news, NSF news, Brazil Sun, and Water World.

November 5, 2013:  A new study on arsenic occurrence in toenail keratin suggests that a person’s exposure to arsenic in drinking water can be detected by simple measurements of arsenic in the nails. The study was published in Journal Of Exposure Science And Environmental Epidemiology. See Duke press release of the study.

October 2, 2013:  A new study finds  elevated levels of radioactivity, salts and metals in river water and sediments at a site where treated water from oil and gas operations is discharged into a western Pennsylvania creek. The study was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. See Duke Press release. The study was reported by ACS web site, USA-TodayThe Guardian   Bloomberg  Scientific American the Voice of Russia radio and many others. A copy of the paper is here.EST_impacts of shale gas wastewater


August 15, 2013: A new study characterizes the carbon, sulfur and strontium isotopic imprints of effluents from mountaintop mining and their affect on streams in West Virginia. The study was published in Environmental Science and Technology. See Duke press release. The study was reported by Appalachian Voices. Get paper here (EST_MTM isotopes)

June 24, 2013: A new study finds Higher Levels of Stray Gases Found in Water Wells Near Shale Gas Sites. The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS). See Duke press release. Get paper (PNAS_Jacksonetal2013).

June 1, 2013: A documentary film “Downwind and downstream“, as part of a short film series on the impacts of coal ash interviews Avner Vengosh in the film “With Power comes Responsibility“.

May 30, 2013:  Avner Vengosh presents “Risks of shale gas exploration and hydraulic fracturing to water resources in the US” at “Workshop on Risks of Unconventional Shale Gas Development” hosted by the National Academy of Science. The presentation  See presentation here.

May 15, 2013: Study Finds No Evidence of Water Contamination from Shale Gas Drilling in Arkansas published in Applied Geochemistry . See Duke press release. Also AP report published in the Washington Post.

April 8, 2013: A new study on the salinity of groundwater from the Saharan oases in the Draa Basin of southern Morocco was published in Applied Geochemistry. See Duke Press release.

February 16, 2013: Vengosh interviewed by WCNC-TV  on water contamination by coal ash ponds in North Carolina.

November 6, 2012: Geological Society America meeting, Pardee Keynote Sessions – Shale Gas Development and Hydraulic Fracturing Impacts on Water Resources in the United States , Charlotte, North Carolina.

Duke team at GSA 2012; From left: Cidney  Christie (MEM, 2012), Alissa While (B.Sc., 2011), Brit Merola (PhD student), Nat Warner (PhD student), David Vinson (PhD, 2011), Avner Vengosh (EOS faculty), and Tom Darrah (Research Scientist)

November 5, 2012: Radioactive Water Threatens Middle East . Spiegel Online International, Germany.

October 28, 2012: Op-ed by Avner Vengosh in News and ObserverCoal ash’s threat to N.C. water . Also you can see it here.

October 18, 2012: Avner Vengosh to Testify on Environmental Impacts of Energy Production at Oct. 18 Congressional Briefing (Abstract_energy_AERC_Vengosh ). The extend presentation was presented at the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers (AERC) symposium and posted on-line.

October 15, 2012: High Levels of Coal Ash Contaminants Found in N.C. Waters: A new paper entitled “The Impact of Coal Combustion Residue Effluent on Water Resources: A North Carolina Example” was published in Environmental Science and Technology (see paper here).

July 9, 2012: A new paper entitled ” Geochemical evidence for possible natural migration of Marcellus Formation brine to shallow aquifers in Pennsylvania” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS). One of the many media coverage and an interview with WRAL-TV is presented here.

March 10, 2012: Fieldwork to study water quality in Vietnam

Seminar at the Faculty of Environmental Science, University of Science, Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam


March 18, 2012: Fracking in New Zealand: Vengosh interviewed to 60 minutes New Zealand.

Vengosh presents the fracking research at the marae (welcome) Māori ceremony; Gisbone, North Island, New Zealand

January 9, 2012: Reynolds Theater, Bryan Center, Duke University

Environmental and social implications of Hydraulic fracturing and shale gas drilling in the United States: An integrative workshop for the evaluation of the state of science and policy (frackingflyer3rdP)

October 9-12, 2011: Presentations at the 2011 American Geological Society (GSA) meeting (Minneapolis, MN):

Vengosh, A., Merola, B.R., Ruhl, L., Warner, N., Lindberg, T., Di Giulio, R.T. (2011) Strontium isotope variations as a proxy for selenium contamination from mountaintop mining. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, 43, No. 5, p. 345.

Ruhl. L., Vengosh, A., Dwyer, G. (2011). Geochemical charactarization of the environmental impacts of coal combustion products: lessons from the Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash spill. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 43, No. 5, p. 409.

Warner, N. Osborn, S., Jackson, R., Vengosh, A. (2011). Boron and strontium isotopes as sensitive tracers for indicating potential shallow groundwater contamination from Marcellus Formation brines. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 43, No. 5, p. 566.

Osborn, S., Warner, N., Vengosh, A., Jackson, R. (2011). Dissolved gas geochemistry of shallow groundwater systems in Pennsylvania and New York, associated with natural gas extraction. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 43, No. 5, p. 567.

October 3, 2011: Avner Vengosh Presents Keynote at International Geochemistry Symposium

September 30, 2011 – PhD students Laura Ruhl and Brittany Merola win international awards

April 1, 2011 – Avner Vengosh named Fellow of International Association of Geochemistry

(more about IAGC fellow see here).

Vengosh receives the Fellow of International Association of Geochemistry Award award at the International Geochemistry Symposium – Applied Isotope Geochemisty (AIG-9), Tarragona, Spain, September 2011.

For more updated news see here and older news see here.

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