SR and U isotopes reveal interactions of surface water and groundwater along the mountain headwaters to intermountain basin transition (Hyalite Canyon and Gallatin Valley, MT)

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Agriculture


Mountainous regions of the western United States are characterized by steep, rapidly eroding mountain headwater streams transitioning to more depositional intermountain basins. The character and flux of water across these process domains is subject to projected changes in mountain headwater snowpack and agricultural and urban land use in rapidly developing intermountain basins. Here we evaluate controls on water/rock, water/substrate, and surface/groundwater interactions within Hyalite Creek and the Gallatin Valley of southwest Montana. We use solute loads and geochemical tracers (87 Sr/86 Sr, Ca/Sr, and [234U/238U]) as indicators of such interactions. Surface water, groundwater, and soil samples were collected between 2016 and 2018. Stream water in upper Hyalite Creek had low 87 Sr/86 Sr values typical of volcanic and sedimentary host rock units, and low [234 U/238 U] values consistent with shorter flow path soil, shallow aquifer or runoff water. Middle Hyalite Creek had increased [234 U/238 U] values, reflecting groundwater inflows from the Madison Group limestones. Lower Hyalite Creek had an increase in 87 Sr/86 Sr values and decrease in [234 U/238 U] values, indicated contributions from Archean gneiss fracture flow. Using mixing models, we estimate inflows from the Madison contribute ~4% during summer baseflow conditions and inflows from the Archean contribute ~2% to ~8% of streamflow during summer and winter baseflow conditions. At the mountain front, diverse Ca/Sr, 87Sr/86Sr, and [234U/238U] ratios were observed as a result of convergent flow in mountain headwaters catchments. In the intermountain basin, divergent flow at the mountain front recharges valley aquifers and combines with infiltration through soils. With distance down-valley, we observe intermediate values of Ca/Sr, 87 Sr/86 Sr, and [234 U/238 U], suggesting mixing of diverse source waters. Higher concentrations of Sr, alkalinity, and Ca/Sr and 87 Sr/86 Sr ratios consistent with soil carbonates suggest water infiltration through soil facilitated the influence of soil secondary carbonates on groundwater geochemistry. Additionally, increased water movement through soil facilitates the increase in anthropogenic loading of NO3- and Cl- in surface and groundwaters. Our results provide novel quantification of groundwater contribution to streamflow in mountain headwaters, and elucidate water quality and quantity controls from the mountain front across the intermountain basin, including valley aquifer recharge, infiltration through soils, and anthropogenic solute influxes to groundwater.




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