Using 18O/16O data to examine the mixing of water masses in floodplain wetlands
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Oxygen isotopic data were used to assess how far waters from the Savannah River, a major river in the Southeastern United States, backed up and inundated the wetlands along a small Coastal Plain tributary during a flood. This approach worked because the water of this tributary, Unper Three Runs, had an oxygen isotopic composition (δ18O = −4.9 ‰) distinct from Savannah River water (δ18O = −3.2 ‰).
Two sample surveys were taken from the mouth of Upper Three Runs to 2 km upstream. Waters were isotopically uniform along the length of the sample transect when both river and tributary water levels were below bankfull. Visual estimates of turbidity taken when both the river and tributary overflowed their channels and inundated adjacent wetlands indicated that Savannah River water extended about 300 meters up the tributary channel. In contrast, the isotopic data indicated that a mixing zone of river and tributary waters extended about 1100 meters upstream. Although this mixing zone was documented only in the channel of Upper Three Runs, it probably extended into adjacent parts of the riparian wetland, potentially affecting ecological processes due to the differing water quality. This study was conducted in a single river-tributary system and the approach is probably applicable in other large rivers.
Corresponding Editor: R. Sharitz
Keywordsbackwater floodplain groundwater oxygen isotopes Savannah River wetlands
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