FCE LTER Journal Articles


Determining Spatial and Temporal Inputs of Freshwater, Including Submarine Groundwater Discharge, to a Subtropical Estuary Using Geochemical Tracers, Biscayne Bay, South Florida


Geochemical mixing models were used to decipher the dominant source of freshwater (rainfall, canal discharge, or groundwater discharge) to Biscayne Bay, an estuary in south Florida. Discrete samples of precipitation, canal water, groundwater, and bay surface water were collected monthly for 2 years and analyzed for salinity, stable isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen, and Sr2+/Ca2+ concentrations. These geochemical tracers were used in three separate mixing models and then combined to trace the magnitude and timing of the freshwater inputs to the estuary. Fresh groundwater had an isotopic signature (δ 18O = −2.66‰, δD −7.60‰) similar to rainfall (δ 18O = −2.86‰, δD = −4.78‰). Canal water had a heavy isotopic signature (δ 18O = −0.46‰, δD  = −2.48‰) due to evaporation. This made it possible to use stable isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen to separate canal water from precipitation and groundwater as a source of freshwater into the bay. A second model using Sr2+/Ca2+ ratios was developed to discern fresh groundwater inputs from precipitation inputs. Groundwater had a Sr2+/Ca2+ ratio of 0.07, while precipitation had a dissimilar ratio of 0.89. When combined, these models showed a freshwater input ratio of canal/precipitation/groundwater of 37%:53%:10% in the wet season and 40%:55%:5% in the dry season with an error of ±25%. For a bay-wide water budget that includes saltwater and freshwater mixing, fresh groundwater accounts for 1–2% of the total fresh and saline water input.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation through the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under Cooperative Agreements #DBI-0620409 and #DEB-9910514. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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