Breaking the window of detection: Using multi-scale solute tracer studies to assess mass recovery at the detection limit

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Adam Scott Ward , Steve Wondzell, Mike Gooseff, Tim Covino, Skuyler Herzog, Brian McGlynn, Rob Payn


Stream solute tracers are commonly injected to assess transport and transformation in study reaches, but results are biased toward the shortest and fastest storage locations. While this bias has been understood for decades, the impact of an experimental constraint on our understanding has yet to be considered. Here, we ask how different our understanding of reach- and segment-scale transport would be if our empirical limits were extended. We demonstrate a novel approach to manipulate experimental conditions and observe mass that is stored at timescales beyond the traditional reach-scale window of detection. We are able to explain the fate of an average of 26% of solute tracer mass that would have been considered as ‘lost’ in a traditional study design across our 14 replicates, extending our detection limits to characterize flowpaths that would have been previously unmeasured. We demonstrate how this formerly lost mass leads to predicting lower magnitudes of gross gains and losses in individual reaches, and ultimately show that the network turnover we infer from solute tracers represents an upper limit on actual, expected behavior. Finally, we review the evolution of tracer studies and their interpretation including this approach and provide a proposed future direction to extend empirical studies to not-before-seen timescales





hyporheic, tracer, solute, River Corridor, transport, turnover


Published: 2022-05-05 10:19

Last Updated: 2022-05-05 17:19


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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