Development of a methodology for the application of synthetic DNA in stream tracer injection experiments



[1] Stream tracer injection experiments are useful for characterizing hydrological and biogeochemical processes in streams. We used nonconservative synthetic DNA and conservative NaCl in six instantaneous tracer injection experiments in streams in the Benelux. The main aim was to compare the performance of injected synthetic DNA tracer “T23” with NaCl. In all experiments, the shapes of the T23 and NaCl breakthrough curves (BTCs) were similar. Recovered T23 mass ranged from 2.9 to 52.6%, while recovered NaCl tracer mass ranged from 66.7% to complete mass recovery. In batch experiments, T23 decay was not detected. However, in those batches, we observed an unexplained initial T23 mass loss of 40–97%. In batches with sediment, T23 attachment rate coefficients ranged from close to zero to 0.2 hr−1. Advective and dispersive transport parameters of both NaCl and T23 fitted with STAMMT-L were similar. However, compared to T23, fitted storage zone areas of NaCl were 2–5 times larger, while storage zone exchange coefficients were two times larger. Fitted mass dilution factors of T23 ranged from 1.6 to 34.8. Together, these results pointed toward the disappearance of a part of the T23 mass due to both initial losses and attachment or sorption of T23 mass in those storage zone(s), while decay was not important. Our research demonstrated that artificial DNA can be a valuable tool to determine advective and dispersive transport in brooks, but not to assess solute mass exchange processes related to surface transient storage or hyporheic exchange.