Sandia, University Of Montana Researchers Try Training Bees To Find Buried Landmines

or more from the hive in all directions.

"Bees are like flying dust mops," says Bromenshenk. "Wherever they go, they pick up dust, airborne chemicals, and other samples. If it's out there, they'll find it and bring it back."

All landmines leak small amounts of explosives into nearby soil or water. Sandia's mine-detection research has focused on predicting what happens to mine-leaked vapors and residues and their chemical byproducts in the environment as they are adsorbed on soil particles, permeated or leached through soil, dissolved in water, and consumed by animals and plants. By modeling the "fate and transport" of explosives and understanding where they concentrate in the environment, the researchers are better able to detect their presence at lower levels and determine optimum conditions for detection.

Based on this work, Sandia is developing a number of mine-detection systems, including handheld chemical "sniffers," soil-penetrating vapor extractors, and methods to enhance the chemical signature of landmines. Many of these systems can detect plastic landmines, which most conventional metal-detector-based systems cannot.

Increasing Bees' Odds

The bee demonstration in Albuquerque makes use of a remote test area laden with mock mines, specifically built for Sandia's landmine-detection research. Last fall the Sandia team established two small honeybee hives in the landmine field. They also established two control hives a few miles away, from which they'll gather baseline data.

Several varieties of plants are being grown in an enclosed greenhouse near the test site. The plants' soil is tainted with varying levels of TNT so the researchers can study how efficiently the plants uptake the TNT.

"There is very little written in the scientific literature about plant uptake of explosive contaminants," says Sandia's Susan Bender. "We are conducting new studies to see if plants rooted in TNT-tainted soil will uptake the residues into their

Contact: John German
DOE/Sandia National Laboratories

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