Sulphur 35, a cosmogenically produced radioisotope with a short half-life (87 days), was measured in snowpack during 1993-1997 and at four locations within the Loch Vale watershed during 1995-1997. The four sites include the two main drainages in the watershed, Andrews Creek and Icy Brook, a small south facing catchment flowing into Andrews Creek (Andrews Spring 1), and a similar north facing catchment flowing out of a scree field into Icy Brook (Spring 19). Concentrations ranged from a high of almost 50 mBq/L for a sample from Spring 19 in June 1996 to a concentration near the detection limit for a sample from Andrews Creek in April 1997. Sulphur 35 concentrations were normalized to sulphate (as mBq/mg SO4/-2) and were decay-corrected to a Julian day of 90 (April 1) for each year. Snowpack had the highest 35S concentration with an average concentration of 53 mBq/mg SO4-2. Concentrations in the streams were much lower, even when corrected for decay relative to JD 90. The large 35S concentrations found in Spring 19 were the result of increases in concentration due to sublimation and/or evapotranspiration and were lower than snowpack when normalized to sulphate. Using 35S concentrations found in snowpack as of JD 90 as a beginning concentration, the fraction of sulphate in streamflow that was derived from atmospheric deposition within the prior water year was estimated. For Icy Brook and Andrews Creek the fraction of the sulphate in streamflow derived from that year's snowpack and precipitation was low prior to the beginning of the main spring melt, reached a maximum during the period of maximum flow, and decreased as the summer progressed. A calculation of the seasonal flux indicated that about 40% of the sulphate that flowed out of the watershed was derived from atmospheric sulphate deposited during the previous year. This suggests that more than half of the sulphate deposited in the watershed by atmospheric processes during the previous year was removed during the following summer. Thus sulphate retention in alpine watersheds like Loch Vale is very limited, and changes in sulphate deposition should be quickly reflected in stream chemistry.
Additional publication details
Timescales for migration of atmospherically derived sulphate through an alpine/subalpine watershed, Loch Vale, Colorado