, Volume 153, Issue 1-4, pp 95-113

Relative Effect of Temperature and pH on Diel Cycling of Dissolved Trace Elements in Prickly Pear Creek, Montana

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Abstract

Diel (24 hr) cycles in dissolved metal and As concentrations have been documented in many northern Rocky Mountain streams in the U.S.A. The cause(s) of the cycles are unknown, although temperature- and pH-dependent sorption reactions have been cited as likely causes. A light/dark experiment was conducted to isolate temperature and pH as variables affecting diel metal cycles in Prickly Pear Creek, Montana. Light and dark chambers containing sediment and a strand of macrophyte were placed in the stream to simulate instream temperature oscillations. Photosynthesis-induced pH changes were allowed to proceed in the light chambers while photosynthesis was prevented in the dark chambers. Water samples were collected periodically for 22 hr in late July 2001 from all chambers and the stream. In the stream, dissolved Zn concentrations increased by 300% from late afternoon to early morning, while dissolved As concentrations exhibited the opposite pattern, increasing 33% between early morning and late afternoon. Zn and As concentrations in the light chambers showed similar, though less pronounced, diel variations. Conversely, Zn and As concentrations in the dark chambers had no obvious diel variation, indicating that light, or light-induced reactions, caused the variation. Temperature oscillations were nearly identical between light and dark chambers, strongly suggesting that temperature was not controlling the diel variations. As expected, pH was negatively correlated (P < 0.01) with dissolved Zn concentrations and positively correlated with dissolved As concentrations in both the light and dark chambers. From these experiments, photosynthesis-induced pH changes were determined to be the major cause of the diel dissolved Zn and As cycles in Prickly Pear Creek. Further research is necessary in other streams to verify that this finding is consistent among streams having large differences in trace-element concentrations and mineralogy of channel substrate.