Novel Approaches for Delineating and Studying “Hotspots” and “Hot Moments” in Fluvial Environments
Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Experiments at the Department of Energy’s Rifle, CO (USA) field site have long focused on stimulated biogeochemical pathways arising from organic carbon injection. While reductive pathways and their relation to uranium immobilization have been a focus since 2002, ongoing studies are exploring oxidative pathways and their role in mediating fluxes of C, N, S, and aqueous metals. Insights gained from ‘stimulation’ experiments are providing insight into analogous natural biogeochemical pathways that mediate elemental cycling in the absence of exogenous carbon. Such reactions are instead mediated by endogenous pools of natural organic matter (NOM) deposited during aggradation of aquifer sediments associated with fluvial processes within the Colorado River floodplain. Discrete lenses of fine-grained, organic-rich sediments enriched in reduced species, such as Fe(II) and iron sulfides have been identified along the active margin of the floodplain. Referred to as “naturally reduced zones” (NRZs), these localities constitute a distinct facies type within an otherwise gravel-dominated, largely NOM-deficient matrix. NRZs represent ‘hotspots’ of seasonally intense C, N, S, and U cycling during excursions in groundwater elevation. Air bubble imbibition within the capillary fringe is inferred to contribute to seasonally oxic groundwater, with its puntuated, ‘hot moment’ like impact on redox-mediated reactions exhibiting close correspondence to those induced through the intentional introduction of oxidants. Reactions induce sharp gradients in nitrate and sulfate resulting from elevated rates of nitrification and oxidation of reduced sulfur as dissolved oxygen becomes non-limiting. Given their outsized role in constraining the location and timing of critcal element cycling pathways, delineating the distribution of NRZs across scales of relevance to natural field systems is of great importance. Novel mapping approaches borrowed from the field of exploration geophysics provide one means for identifying such ‘hotspots’ across a variety of environments where their formation is favored. Drilling activities and deployment of monitoring approaches to study cycling pathways of interest and as a function of hydrologic perturbation may then be performed in a targeted and scientificlally-informed manner.