Streams experience changing hydrologic connectivity to heterogeneous water sources under different flow regimes. It remains unclear how seasonal flow paths link these different sources and regulate concentration-discharge behavior. Previous research at the Susquehanna Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory (SSHCZO) in central Pennsylvania, USA identified chemostatic solutes (e.g., K, Mg, Na, Cl) whose concentrations varied little across a wide range of discharge values and chemodynamic solutes (e.g., Fe and Mn) whose concentrations decreased sharply with increasing stream discharge. To elucidate inputs to the stream when concentrations of chemodynamic solutes were high, we investigated stream water and shallow groundwater (< 4 m) chemistry at the SSHCZO in early autumn when discharge was negligible.
The stream consisted of isolated puddles that were chemically variable along the length of the channel but similar to underlying shallow groundwater. Chemodynamic solute concentrations in the stream and groundwater were high in the upper catchment but decreased by an order of magnitude towards the outlet. In contrast, chemostatic solute concentrations varied little. Groundwater was minimally connected to the stream in an area of upwelling near the stream headwaters; however, the water table remained over a meter below the stream bed along the rest of the channel. We conclude that well water sampled from the upper catchment is young, shallow interflow that upwells to generate metal-rich stream headwaters during the dry season. High concentrations of chemodynamic solutes measured during low discharge occur when metal-rich headwaters are flushed to the catchment outlet during periodic rain events. Interflow during the dry season originates from water that infiltrates through organic-rich swales; thus, metals in the stream at low flow are ultimately derived from convergent hillslopes where biological processes have concentrated chemodynamic elements. We infer that chemodynamic solutes are diluted at high discharge due to increased flow through planar hillslopes and inputs from regional groundwater that rises to enter the stream. This study highlights how spatially heterogeneous biogeochemistry and seasonally variable flow paths regulate concentration-discharge behavior within catchments.
Herndon, E., Steinhoefel, G., Dere, A.L.D., Sullivan, P.L. (2017): Perennial flow through convergent hillslopes explains chemodynamic solute behavior in a shale headwater catchment. 2017 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, New Orleans, LA, 11-15 Dec .
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.