Surface water can exhibit substantial diel variations in the concentration of a number of constituents. Sampling regimens that do not characterize diel variations in water quality can result in an inaccurate understanding of site conditions and of the threat posed by the site to human health and the environment. Surface- and groundwater affected by acid drainage were sampled every 60 to 90 minutes over a 48-hour period at a former zinc smelter known as the Hegeler Zinc Superfund Site, in Hegeler, Ill. Groundwater-quality data from a well at the site indicate stable, low pH, weakly oxidizing geochemical conditions in the aquifer. With the exceptions of temperature and pH, no constituents exhibited diel variations in groundwater. Variations in temperature and pH likely were not representative of conditions in the aquifer.
Surface water was sampled at a site on Grape Creek. Diel variations were observed in temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, and specific conductance, and in the concentrations of nitrite, barium, iron, lead, vanadium, and possibly uranium. Concentrations during the diel cycles varied by about an order of magnitude for nitrite and varied by about a factor of two for barium, iron, lead, vanadium, and uranium. Temperature, dissolved oxygen, specific conductance, nitrite, barium, lead, and uranium generally reached maximum values during the afternoon and minimum values during the night. Iron, vanadium, and pH generally reached minimum values during the afternoon and maximum values during the night. These variations would need to be accounted for during sampling of surface-water quality in similar hydrologic settings.
The temperature variations in surface water were affected by variations in air temperature. Concentrations of dissolved oxygen were affected by variations in the intensity of photosynthetic activity and respiration. Nitrite likely was formed by the oxidation of ammonium by dissolved oxygen and degraded by its anaerobic oxidation by ammonium or as part of the decomposition of organic matter. Variations in pH were affected by the photoreduction of Fe3+ to Fe2+ and the precipitation of iron oxyhydroxides. Diel variations in concentrations of iron and vanadium were likely caused by variations in the dissolution and precipitation of iron oxyhydroxides, oxyhydroxysulfates, and hydrous sulfates, which may have been affected by in the intensity of insolation, iron photoreduction, and the concentration of dissolved oxygen. The concentrations of lead, uranium, and perhaps barium in Grape Creek may have been affected by competition for sorption sites on iron oxyhydroxides. Competition for sorption sites was likely affected by variations in pH and the concentration of Fe2+. Constituent concentrations likely also were affected by precipitation and dissolution of minerals that are sensitive to changes in pH, temperature, oxidation-reduction conditions, and biologic activity. The chemical and biologic processes that resulted in the diel variations observed in Grape Creek occurred within the surface-water column or in the underlying sediments.