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Water Resources Research

The chemical evolution of a travertine-depositing stream: Geochemical processes and mass transfer reactions

Authors

  • Michelle M. Lorah,

  • Janet S. Herman


Abstract

This field study focuses on quantitatively defining the chemical changes occurring in Falling Spring Creek, a travertine-depositing stream located in Alleghany County, Virginia. The processes of CO2 outgassing and calcite precipitation or dissolution control the chemical evolution of the stream. The observed chemical composition of the water was used with the computerized geochemical model WATEQF to calculate aqueous speciation, saturation indices, and CO2 partial pressure values. Mass balance calculations were performed to obtain mass transfers of CO2 and calcite. Reaction times, estimated from stream discharge, were used with the mass transfer results to calculate rates of CO2, outgassing and calcite precipitation between consecutive sampling points. The stream, which is fed by a carbonate spring, is supersaturated with respect to CO2 along the entire 5.2-km flow path. Outgassing of CO2 drives the solution to high degrees of supersaturation with respect to calcite. Metabolic uptake of CO2 by photosynthetic plants is insignificant, because the high supply rate of dissolved carbon dioxide and the extreme agitation of the stream at waterfalls and rapids causes a much greater amount of inorganic CO2 outgassing to occur. Calcite precipitation is kinetically inhibited until near the crest of a 20-m vertical waterfall. Calcite precipitation rates then reach a maximum at the waterfall where greater water turbulence allows the most rapid escape of CO2. Physical evidence for calcite precipitation exists in the travertine deposits which are first observed immediately above the waterfall and extend for at least 1.0 km below the falls. Net calcite precipitation occurs at all times of the year but is greatest during low-flow conditions in the summer and early fall.

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