Combining natural and man-made DNA tracers to advance understanding of hydrologic flow pathway evolution

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 9:00 AM
Helen E Dahlke, University of California Davis, Davis, CA, United States, Michael Todd Walter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, United States, Steve W Lyon, Stockholm University, Physical Geography & Quaternary Geology, Stockholm, Sweden and Gunhild Ninis Rosqvist, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
Identifying and characterizing the sources, pathways and residence times of water and associated constituents is critical to developing improved understanding of watershed-stream connections and hydrological/ecological/biogeochemical models. To date the most robust information is obtained from integrated studies that combine natural tracers (e.g. isotopes, geochemical tracers) with controlled chemical tracer (e.g., bromide, dyes) or colloidal tracer (e.g., carboxilated microspheres, tagged clay particles, microorganisms) applications. In the presented study we explore how understanding of sources and flow pathways of water derived from natural tracer studies can be improved and expanded in space and time by simultaneously introducing man-made, synthetic DNA-based microtracers. The microtracer used were composed of polylactic acid (PLA) microspheres into which short strands of synthetic DNA and paramagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles are incorporated. Tracer experiments using both natural tracers and the DNA-based microtracers were conducted in the sub-arctic, glacierized Tarfala (21.7 km2) catchment in northern Sweden. Isotopic hydrograph separations revealed that even though storm runoff was dominated by pre-event water the event water (i.e. rainfall) contributions to streamflow increased throughout the summer season as glacial snow cover decreased. This suggests that glaciers are a major source of the rainwater fraction in streamflow. Simultaneous injections of ten unique DNA-based microtracers confirmed this hypothesis and revealed that the transit time of water traveling from the glacier surface to the stream decreased fourfold over the summer season leading to instantaneous rainwater contributions during storm events. These results highlight that integrating simultaneous tracer injections (injecting tracers at multiple places at one time) with traditional tracer methods (sampling multiple times at one place) rather than using either approach in isolation can provide new insights into the source, timing and mixing of water moving through hydrologic systems.