Distribution of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in soils of an arid urban ecosystem

Yevgeniy Marusenko, Pierre Herckes, Sharon Hall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are widespread environmental pollutants produced by incomplete combustion sources such as home heating, biomass burning, and vehicle emissions. PAH concentrations in soils are influenced by source inputs and environmental factors that control loss processes and soil retention. Many studies have found higher concentrations of these pollutants in soils within cities of temperate climates that have a centralized urban core. Less is known about the factors regulating PAH abundance in warm, arid urban ecosystems with low population densities but high traffic volumes. The relative importance of sources such as motor vehicle traffic load and aridland ecosystem characteristics, including temperature, silt, and soil organic matter (SOM) were explored as factors regulating PAH concentrations in soils near highways across the metropolitan area of Phoenix, AZ (USA). Highway traffic is high compared with other cities, with an average of 155,000 vehicles/day. Soils contained low but variable amounts of SOM (median 2.8∈±∈1.8% standard deviation). Across the city, median PAH concentrations in soil were low relative to other cities, 523∈± ∈1,886 μg/kg, ranging from 67 to 10,117 μg/kg. Diagnostic ratio analyses confirmed that the source of PAHs is predominantly fuel combustion (i.e., vehicle emissions) rather than petrogenic, biogenic, or other combustion sources (coal, wood burning). However, in a multiple regression analysis including traffic characteristics and soil properties, SOM content was the variable most strongly related to PAH concentrations. Our research suggests that dryland soil characteristics play an important role in the retention of PAH compounds in soils of arid cities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)473-487
Number of pages15
JournalWater, Air, and Soil Pollution
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Jul 2011


  • Arid
  • Carbon deposition
  • PAH
  • Soil organic matter
  • Sonoran desert
  • Urban ecosystem

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Pollution


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