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Heat as a Tracer to Estimate Dissolved Organic Carbon Flux from a Restored Wetland


Corresponding author: U.S. Geological Survey, Placer Hall, 6000 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95819; (916) 278-3087;


Heat was used as a natural tracer to characterize shallow ground water flow beneath a complex wetland system. Hydrogeologic data were combined with measured vertical temperature profiles to constrain a series of two-dimensional, transient simulations of ground water flow and heat transport using the model code SUTRA (Voss 1990). The measured seasonal temperature signal reached depths of 2.7 m beneath the pond. Hydraulic conductivity was varied in each of the layers in the model in a systematic manual calibration of the two-dimensional model to obtain the best fit to the measured temperature and hydraulic head. Results of a series of representative best-fit simulations represent a range in hydraulic conductivity values that had the best agreement between simulated and observed temperatures and that resulted in simulated pond seepage values within 1 order of magnitude of pond seepage estimated from the water budget. Resulting estimates of ground water discharge to an adjacent agricultural drainage ditch were used to estimate potential dissolved organic carbon (DOC) loads resulting from the restored wetland. Estimated DOC loads ranged from 45 to 1340 g C/(m2 year), which is higher than estimated DOC loads from surface water. In spite of the complexity in characterizing ground water flow in peat soils, using heat as a tracer provided a constrained estimate of subsurface flow from the pond to the agricultural drainage ditch.