, Volume 76, Issue 1, pp 161-185

First online:

Tracing Sources of Streamwater Sulfate During Snowmelt Using S and O Isotope Ratios of Sulfate and 35S Activity

  • James B. ShanleyAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey Email author 
  • , Bernhard MayerAffiliated withDepartment of Geology and Geophysics, University of Calgary
  • , Myron J. MitchellAffiliated withCollege of Environmental Science and Forestry, State University of New York
  • , Robert L. MichelAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey
  • , Scott W. BaileyAffiliated withNortheastern Research Station, Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, USDA Forest Service
  • , Carol KendallAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey

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The biogeochemical cycling of sulfur (S) was studied during the 2000 snowmelt at Sleepers River Research Watershed in northeastern Vermont, USA using a hydrochemical and multi-isotope approach. The snowpack and 10 streams of varying size and land use were sampled for analysis of anions, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), 35S activity, and δ34S and δ18O values of sulfate. At one of the streams, δ18O values of water also were measured. Apportionment of sulfur derived from atmospheric and mineral sources based on their distinct δ34S values was possible for 7 of the 10 streams. Although mineral S generally dominated, atmospheric-derived S contributions exceeded 50% in several of the streams at peak snowmelt and averaged 41% overall. However, most of this atmospheric sulfur was not from the melting snowpack; the direct contribution of atmospheric sulfate to streamwater sulfate was constrained by 35S mass balance to a maximum of 7%. Rather, the main source of atmospheric sulfur in streamwater was atmospheric sulfate deposited months to years earlier that had microbially cycled through the soil organic sulfur pool. This atmospheric/pedospheric sulfate (pedogenic sulfate formed from atmospheric sulfate) source is revealed by δ18O values of streamwater sulfate that remained constant and significantly lower than those of atmospheric sulfate throughout the melt period, as well as streamwater 35S ages of hundreds of days. Our results indicate that the response of streamwater sulfate to changes in atmospheric deposition will be mediated by sulfate retention in the soil.


Isotopic tracers Oxygen-18 Sulfate Sulfur-34 Sulfur-35 Vermont Sleepers River