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A hydrologic tracer study in a small, natural wetland in the humid tropics of Costa Rica

Abstract

Growing populations and food demand in the tropics are leading to increased environmental pressures on wetland ecosystems, including a greater reliance on natural wetlands for water quality improvement. Effective assessment of wetland treatment potential requires an improved understanding of the hydraulic and biogeochemical factors that govern contaminant behavior, however detailed studies of flow through natural, tropical wetlands are scarce. We performed a tracer study using a conservative salt (potassium bromide) to examine the hydraulic behavior of a small, natural wetland in the Costa Rican humid tropics and modeled observed breakthrough curves using the 1-D advection–dispersion equation. Velocities in the wetland were extremely slow, from less than 4 m day−1 to a maximum of ~30 m day−1, and were distributed across several flowpaths, illustrating a spatial heterogeneity of flow and velocities. Modeled dispersion coefficients were also low (33 ± 33 mday−1). Estimated residence times suggested high potential pollutant removal capacity over a range of influent concentrations, reinforcing the environmental services provided by this and other small tropical wetlands. The study also highlighted how small variations in wetland topography and vegetation yield strong differences in transport patterns that affect transport and mixing in densely vegetated, heterogeneous wetland systems. Empirical data on the hydraulics, and resulting ecosystem functions, of small, distributed wetlands may provide support for improved conservation and management of these important ecosystems.

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Abbreviations

Br :

Bromide

BTC:

Breakthrough curve

τ:

Residence time

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Dr. Wynn Philips and the University of Florida (UF) Gatorade Foundation for the generous funding to support this research. This work would not have been possible without the contributions of Paul Lane, Timothy Townsend, Hwidong Kim (UF) and Julio Tejada, Faelen Tais Kolln, Maria Floridalma Miguel Ros, Natalia Solano Valverde, Pedro Bidegaray, and Daniel Sherrard (EARTH University). M. Bachelin thanks Dr. Andrea Rinaldo (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) for M.Sc. co-supervision.

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Kaplan, D., Bachelin, M., Yu, C. et al. A hydrologic tracer study in a small, natural wetland in the humid tropics of Costa Rica. Wetlands Ecol Manage 23, 167–182 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11273-014-9367-1

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11273-014-9367-1

Keywords

  • Tracer study
  • Wetland hydrology
  • Bromide
  • Residence time
  • Water quality
  • Humid tropics
  • Ecosystem services