Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 694–708 | Cite as

Determining Spatial and Temporal Inputs of Freshwater, Including Submarine Groundwater Discharge, to a Subtropical Estuary Using Geochemical Tracers, Biscayne Bay, South Florida

  • Jeremy C. Stalker
  • René M. Price
  • Peter K. Swart


Geochemical mixing models were used to decipher the dominant source of freshwater (rainfall, canal discharge, or groundwater discharge) to Biscayne Bay, an estuary in south Florida. Discrete samples of precipitation, canal water, groundwater, and bay surface water were collected monthly for 2 years and analyzed for salinity, stable isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen, and Sr2+/Ca2+ concentrations. These geochemical tracers were used in three separate mixing models and then combined to trace the magnitude and timing of the freshwater inputs to the estuary. Fresh groundwater had an isotopic signature (δ 18O = −2.66‰, δD −7.60‰) similar to rainfall (δ 18O = −2.86‰, δD = −4.78‰). Canal water had a heavy isotopic signature (δ 18O = −0.46‰, δD = −2.48‰) due to evaporation. This made it possible to use stable isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen to separate canal water from precipitation and groundwater as a source of freshwater into the bay. A second model using Sr2+/Ca2+ ratios was developed to discern fresh groundwater inputs from precipitation inputs. Groundwater had a Sr2+/Ca2+ ratio of 0.07, while precipitation had a dissimilar ratio of 0.89. When combined, these models showed a freshwater input ratio of canal/precipitation/groundwater of 37%:53%:10% in the wet season and 40%:55%:5% in the dry season with an error of ±25%. For a bay-wide water budget that includes saltwater and freshwater mixing, fresh groundwater accounts for 1–2% of the total fresh and saline water input.


Groundwater Isotopes Trace metals Geochemistry Florida Submarine groundwater discharge 



We would like to thank the Florida Seagrant Project No. R/C-E-51, The National Park Service, and especially Richard Curry of Biscayne National Park for logistical support. The Florida International University Graduate School Dissertation Year Fellowship is also thanked for funding. Dr. Price’s contribution was partially funded by the National Science Foundation under Grant no. DBI-0620409 and Grant no. DEB-9910514. Dr. Swart’s contribution was partially funded by the Stable Isotope Laboratory at the University of Miami. This is Southeastern Environmental Research Center research contribution 422.


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeremy C. Stalker
    • 1
  • René M. Price
    • 1
    • 2
  • Peter K. Swart
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Earth SciencesFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  2. 2.Department of Earth Sciences and the Southeast Environmental Research CenterFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  3. 3.Division of Marine Geology and Geophysics, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric SciencesUniversity of MiamiMiamiUSA

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