Watershed ‘chemical cocktails’: forming novel elemental combinations in Anthropocene fresh waters

Abstract

In the Anthropocene, watershed chemical transport is increasingly dominated by novel combinations of elements, which are hydrologically linked together as ‘chemical cocktails.’ Chemical cocktails are novel because human activities greatly enhance elemental concentrations and their probability for biogeochemical interactions and shared transport along hydrologic flowpaths. A new chemical cocktail approach advances our ability to: trace contaminant mixtures in watersheds, develop chemical proxies with high-resolution sensor data, and manage multiple water quality problems. We explore the following questions: (1) Can we classify elemental transport in watersheds as chemical cocktails using a new approach? (2) What is the role of climate and land use in enhancing the formation and transport of chemical cocktails in watersheds? To address these questions, we first analyze trends in concentrations of carbon, nutrients, metals, and salts in fresh waters over 100 years. Next, we explore how climate and land use enhance the probability of formation of chemical cocktails of carbon, nutrients, metals, and salts. Ultimately, we classify transport of chemical cocktails based on solubility, mobility, reactivity, and dominant phases: (1) sieved chemical cocktails (e.g., particulate forms of nutrients, metals and organic matter); (2) filtered chemical cocktails (e.g., dissolved organic matter and associated metal complexes); (3) chromatographic chemical cocktails (e.g., ions eluted from soil exchange sites); and (4) reactive chemical cocktails (e.g., limiting nutrients and redox sensitive elements). Typically, contaminants are regulated and managed one element at a time, even though combinations of elements interact to influence many water quality problems such as toxicity to life, eutrophication, infrastructure corrosion, and water treatment. A chemical cocktail approach significantly expands evaluations of water quality signatures and impacts beyond single elements to mixtures. High-frequency sensor data (pH, specific conductance, turbidity, etc.) can serve as proxies for chemical cocktails and improve real-time analyses of water quality violations, identify regulatory needs, and track water quality recovery following storms and extreme climate events. Ultimately, a watershed chemical cocktail approach is necessary for effectively co-managing groups of contaminants and provides a more holistic approach for studying, monitoring, and managing water quality in the Anthropocene.

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Acknowledgements

This work was funded by USDA (award # 2016-67019-25280) and NSF-EPSCoR (#1641157) for supporting collaborations at the AGU Chapman Conference on Extreme Climate Events. Significant funding for data collection/analyses in this paper was provided by NSF EAR1521224, NSF CBET1058502, NSF Coastal SEES1426844, NSF DEB-0423476 and DEB-1027188, NSF RI EPSCoR NEWRnet Grant No. IIA-1330406, EPA ORD, Chesapeake Bay Trust, and Multi-state Regional Hatch Project S-1063. Gene Likens and Michael Pace provided  valuable and significant discussions and insights. Matthew Miller, Matthew Wright, Neha Patel, and David Tilley provided editorial suggestions. The research has been subjected to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency review, but does not necessarily reflect the views of the agency, and no official endorsement should be inferred. Anthropocene is a term used by scientists and nonscientists to highlight the concept that we are living in a time when human activities have significant effects on the global environment. The Anthropocene currently has no formal status and is not recognized by the USGS. If international agreement is reached, it could become a series/epoch above the Holocene. This is accordance with: U.S. Geological Survey Geologic Names Committee, 2018, Divisions of geologic time-major chronostratigraphic and geochronologic units: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2018-3054, 2p., https://doi.org/10.3133/fs20183054.

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Kaushal, S.S., Gold, A.J., Bernal, S. et al. Watershed ‘chemical cocktails’: forming novel elemental combinations in Anthropocene fresh waters. Biogeochemistry 141, 281–305 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-018-0502-6

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Keywords

  • Storms
  • Floods
  • Droughts
  • Eutrophication
  • Acidification
  • Salinization