Wetlands cannot exist without water, but wetland hydrology is difficult to characterize. As a result, compensatory wetland mitigation often only assumes the proper hydrology has been created. In this study, water sources and mass transfer processes in a natural and constructed wetland complex were investigated using isotopes of water and strontium. Water isotope profiles in the saturated zone revealed that the natural wetland and one site in the constructed wetland were primarily fed by ground water; profiles in another constructed wetland site showed recent rain was the predominant source of water in the root zone. Water isotopes in the capillary fringe indicated that the residence time for rain is less in the natural wetland than in the constructed wetland, thus transpiration (an important water sink) was greater in the natural wetland. Strontium isotopes showed a systematic difference between the natural and constructed wetlands that we attribute to the presence or absence of peat. In the peat-rich natural wetland, ??87Sr in the pore water increased along the flowline due to preferential weathering of minerals containing radiogenic Sr in response to elevated Fe concentrations in the water. In the constructed wetland, where peat thickness was thin and Fe concentrations in water were negligible, ??87Sr did not increase along the flowline. The source of the peat (on-site or off-site derived) applied in the constructed wetland controlled the ??87Sr at the top of the profile, but the effects were restricted by strong cation exchange in the underlying fluvial sediments. Based on the results of this study, neither constructed wetland site duplicated the water source and weathering environment of the adjoining natural wetland. Moreover, stable isotopes were shown to be effective tools for investigating wetlands and gaining insight not easily obtained using non-isotopic techniques. These tools have potential widespread application to wetlands that have distinct isotopic endmember sources.
Additional publication details
Using stable isotopes of water and strontium to investigate the hydrology of a natural and a constructed wetland