Date of Award

Spring 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Environmental Engineering

Committee Chair

Grant Mitman

First Advisor

Kumar Ganesan

Second Advisor

Xufei Yang

Third Advisor

Martha Apple


Mosses are small plants within the phylum Bryophyta known for their ability to grow on acidic, metal laden soil. This project proposes the restoration of moss to barren mine waste areas which will stabilize the soil, thus reducing heavy metal contaminants released to the aquifer and the surrounding environment.

In general, the mine waste areas can be naturally recolonization by native and non-native vegetation as a remediation process. This process is very slow. The removal of the mine waste, capping and replacing it with clean soil, and subsequently replanting is a common remediation method. However, this approach is very expensive and involves high maintenance. When a responsible party cannot be identified, the sites remain barren. Consequently, precipitation and wind events could transport the contaminants into the environment.

Mosses are known as pioneer plants, it is the first plant to establish in barren and disturbed soil areas. They are reproduced by spores or plant fragments, and do not have roots. Therefore, it draws water from the air or soil directly into its leaves. The propagation of moss and its associated organisms accelerate the natural processes that restore damaged areas to normal, steady state and biodiverse ecosystems. The advantages of moss are that, it requires minimum amount of water to propagate, low cost and low maintenance and it does not require superior soil quality to grow.

Mosses increase the alkalinity of the soil, hence allowing all other plant forms to grow. They create rich soil by building up organic material from their growth. Moss community organisms also fix atmospheric nitrogen into bioavailable nitrogen. They are not only resistant to metals and metalloids, but they also adsorb these toxic substances and eliminate them from the surrounding soil. Ultimately, mosses provide a foundation for natural succession of other plant communities to build a stable ecosystem.

The goal of this project is to develop a replicable method to revegetate and restore mine-impacted areas by the propagation of moss and to study the growth of moss by using different hydrophilic polymers and the bacteria Beijerinckia indica (Starkey and De 1939) Derx 1950. Experiments on growing moss were done in the culture chamber and at the outdoor heavy metal contaminated sites. Heavy metal sequestration by moss was determined by digestion and analysis and by the X-ray fluorescence (XRF) handgun.


A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Environmental Engineering