Interactions of solutes and streambed sediment: 1. An experimental analysis of cation and anion transport in a mountain stream


  • Kenneth E. Bencala,

  • Vance C. Kennedy,

  • Gary W. Zellweger,

  • Alan P. Jackman,

  • Ronald J. Avanzino


An experimental injection was performed to study the transport of stream water solutes under conditions of significant interaction with streambed sediments in a mountain pool-and-riffle stream. Experiments were conducted in Little Lost Man Creek, Humboldt County, California, in a period of low flow duringwhich only a part of the bank-full channel held active surface flow. The injection of chloride and several trace cations lasted 20 days. In this report we discuss the results of the first 24 hours of the injection and survey the results of the first 10 days. Solute-streambed interactions of two types were observed. First, the physical transport of the conservative tracer, chloride, was affected by intergravel flow and stagnant watt, zones created by the bed relief. Second, the transport of the cations (strontium, potassium, and lithium) was appreciably modified by sorption onto streambed sediment. In the stream the readily observable consequence of the solute-streambed interactions was an attenuation of the dissolved concentration of each of the tracers. The attenuation in the stream channel occurred concurrently with the storage of tracers in the streambed via both physical and chemical processes. All tracers were subsequently present in shallow wells dug several meters from the wetted part of the channel. Sediment samples collected approximately 3 weeks after the start of the injection contained increased concentrations of the injected cations.