Near-surface physical and chemical process can strongly affect dissolved-ion concentrations and stable isotope compositions of water in wetland settings, especially under arid climate conditions. In contrast, heavy radiogenic isotopes of strontium (87Sr/86Sr) and uranium (234U/238U) remain largely unaffected and can be used to help identify unique signatures from different sources and quantify end-member mixing that would otherwise be difficult to determine. The utility of combined Sr and U isotopes are demonstrated in this study of wetland habitats on the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, which depend on supply from large-volume springs north of the Refuge, and from small-volume springs and seeps within the Refuge. Water budgets from these sources have not been quantified previously. Evaporation, transpiration, seasonally variable surface flow, and water management practices complicate the use of conventional methods for determining source contributions and mixing relations. In contrast, 87Sr/86Sr and 234U/238U remain unfractionated under these conditions, and compositions at a given site remain constant. Differences in Sr- and U-isotopic signatures between individual sites can be related by simple two- or three-component mixing models. Results indicate that surface flow constituting the Refuge’s irrigation source consists of a 65:25:10 mixture of water from two distinct regionally sourced carbonate aquifer springs, and groundwater from locally sourced volcanic aquifers. Within the Refuge, contributions from the irrigation source and local groundwater are readily determined and depend on proximity to those sources as well as water management practices.
Additional publication details
Natural uranium and strontium isotope tracers of water sources and surface water-groundwater interactions in arid wetlands: Pahranagat Valley, Nevada, USA
Journal of Hydrology
Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center