Diel variations in stream chemistry and isotopic composition of dissolved inorganic carbon, upper Clark Fork River, Montana, USA

Stephen R. Parker, Christopher H. Gammons, Simon R. Poulson, Michael D. DeGrandpre

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Many rivers undergo diel (24-h) concentration fluctuations of pH, dissolved gases, trace metals, nutrients, and other chemical species. A study conducted in 1994 documented such behavior in the upper Clark Fork River, Montana, a stream whose headwaters have been severely impacted by historic metal mining, milling, and smelting. The purpose of the present investigation was to expand on these earlier findings by conducting simultaneous diel samplings at two sites on the upper Clark Fork River separated by 2.5 h of stream travel time. By monitoring two stations, it was possible to more closely examine the processes that control temporal and spatial gradients in stream chemistry. Another objective was to examine diel changes in the δ13C composition of dissolved inorganic C (DIC) and their relationship to biological activity in the stream. The most important findings of this study include: (1) concentrations of dissolved and particulate heavy metals increased during the night and decreased during the day, in agreement with previous work; (2) these changes were positively correlated to diel changes in pH, dissolved O2, and water temperature; (3) dissolved NO3- concentrations increased during the night at the lower site, but showed the opposite behavior at the upper site; and (4) diel changes in δ13C-DIC were noted at both sites, although the timing and magnitudes of the cycles differed. Hypotheses to explain the first two observations include: cyclic co-precipitation of divalent metals with carbonate minerals; pH- and temperature-dependent sorption of metal cations onto the streambed and suspended particles; or photosynthetically enhanced oxidation and removal of Fe and Mn oxides at biofilm surfaces during the daytime. The latter model explains the majority of the field observations, including night-time increases in particulate forms of Fe and other elements.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1329-1343
Number of pages15
JournalApplied Geochemistry
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2007


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