Reactive Solute Transport in Small Streams 2. Simulation of a pH-modification Experiment

By Robert L. Runkel, Kenneth E. Bencala, Robert E. Broshears, and Steven C. Chapra. Published in Water Resources Research, 1996. 

Abstract: We present an application of an equilibrium-based solute transport model to a pH-modification experiment conducted on the Snake River, an acidic, metal-rich stream located in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. During the experiment, instream pH decreased from 4.2 to 3.2, causing a marked increase in dissolved iron concentrations. Model application requires specification of several parameters that are estimated using tracer techniques, mass balance calculations, and geochemical data. Two basic questions are addressed through model application: (1) What are the processes responsible for the observed increase in dissolved iron concentrations? (2) Can the identified processes be represented within the equilibrium-based transport model? Simulation results indicate that the increase in iron was due to the dissolution of hydrous iron oxides and the photoreduction of ferric iron. Dissolution from the streambed is represented by considering a trace compartment consisting of freshly precipitated hydrous iron oxide and an abundant compartment consisting of aged precipitates that are less soluble. Spatial variability in the solubility of hydrous iron oxide is attributed to heterogeneity in the streambed sediments, temperature effects, and/or variability in the effects of photoreduction. Solubility products estimated via simulation fall within a narrow range (pKsp from 40.2 to 40.8) relative to the 6 order of magnitude variation reported for laboratory experiments (pKsp from 37.3 to 43.3). Results also support the use of an equilibrium-based transport model as the predominate features of the iron and pH profiles are reproduced. The model provides a valuable tool for quantifying the nature and extent of pH-dependent processes within the context of hydrologic transport.

 

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