While 'water quality function' is cited as an important wetland function to design for and preserve, we demonstrate that the scale at which hydrochemical samples are collected can significantly influence interpretations of biogeochemical processes in wetlands. Subsurface, chemical profiles for both nutrients and major ions were determined at a site in southwestern Wisconsin that contained areas of both natural and constructed wetlands. Sampling was conducted on three different scales: (1) a large scale (3 m between sampling points), (2) an intermediate scale (0.15 m between sampling points), and (3) a small scale (1.5 cm between sampling points). In most cases, significant vertical heterogeneity was observed at the 0.15 m scale, which was much larger than previously reported for freshwater wetlands and not detected by sampling water table wells screened over the same interval. However, profiles of ammonia and total phosphorus showed tenfold changes in the upper 0.2 meters of the saturated zone when sampled at the small (1.5 cm) scale, that was not depicted by sampling at the intermediate scale. At the intermediate scale of observation, one constructed wetland site differed geochemically from the natural wetlands and the other constructed wetland site due to application of off-site salvaged marsh surface and downward infiltration of rain. While important differences in dissolved inorganic phosphorus and dissolved inorganic carbon concentrations existed between the constructed wetland and the natural wetlands, we also observed substantial differences between the natural wetland sites for these constituents. A median-polishing analysis of our data showed that temporal variations in constituent concentrations within profiles, although extensively recognized in the literature, were not as important as spatial variability.
Additional publication details
Assessing hydrogeochemical heterogeneity in natural and constructed wetlands