Soil-plant-atmosphere interactions strongly infl uence water movement in desert unsaturated zones, but litile is known about how such interactions aff ect atmospheric release of subsurface water-borne contaminants. This 2-yr study, performed at the U.S. Geological Survey's Amargosa Desert Research Site in southern Nevada, quantifi ed the magnitude and spatiotemporal variability of tritium (3H) transport from the shallow unsaturated zone to the atmosphere adjacent to a low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) facility. Tritium fl uxes were calculated as the product of 3H concentrations in water vapor and respective evaporation and transpiration water-vapor fl uxes. Quarterly measured 3H concentrations in soil water vapor and in leaf water of the dominant creosote-bush [Larrea tridentata (DC.) Coville] were spatially extrapolated and temporally interpolated to develop daily maps of contamination across the 0.76-km2 study area. Maximum plant and root-zone soil concentrations (4200 and 8700 Bq L-1, respectively) were measured 25 m from the LLRW facility boundary. Continuous evaporation was estimated using a Priestley-Taylor model and transpiration was computed as the diff erence between measured eddy-covariance evapotranspiration and estimated evaporation. The mean evaporation/transpiration ratio was 3:1. Tritium released from the study area ranged from 0.12 to 12 ??g d-1 and totaled 1.5 mg (8.2 ?? 1010 Bq) over 2 yr. Tritium fl ux variability was driven spatially by proximity to 3H source areas and temporally by changes in 3H concentrations and in the partitioning between evaporation and transpiration. Evapotranspiration removed and limited penetration of precipitation beneath native vegetation and fostered upward movement and release of 3H from below the root zone. ?? Soil Science Society of America.
Additional publication details
Transport of tritium contamination to the atmosphere in an arid environment