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Development and Research: Diurnal Metal Variations in Streams

A view of the Big Hole River in southwestern Montana.
Big Hole River in southwestern Montana. USGS scientists and their university colleagues have shown that photosynthesis by aquatic plants causes large diel (daily) cycles in pH, dissolved oxygen concentrations, and the isotopes of oxygen and carbon. In addition, the aquatic plants are thought to cause large changes in streamflow as oxygen production during photosynthesis stiffens the plants and thereby retards downstream flow during the day.

Dry Fork Belt Creek, Mont., with water tanks and containers used in an experiment.
A field experiment conducted in August 2005 that compared the survival of trout fry (newly hatched fish) exposed to constant versus varying metal concentrations, Dry Fork Belt Creek, Montana. Water stored in the streamside tanks was used to periodically refresh the water in the plastic containers in the stream. Water in the tanks had high, medium, or low metal concentrations. The fourth tank contained metal-free water used for the experimental control. The most upstream group of containers (at bottom of photo) were perforated so that metal concentrations in these containers would fluctuate as they do in the stream.

An abandoned mine site on Galena Creek in the Barker mining district in central Montana.
An abandoned mine site on Galena Creek in the Barker mining district in central Montana. Galena Creek is a tributary to Dry Fork Belt Creek and is the main source of the dissolved metals in Dry Fork Belt Creek. Dry Fork Belt Creek was the site of experiments that investigated the effects of diel cycling of dissolved metals on the toxicity of metals to fish.

High Ore Creek, Mont., with water tanks and containers used in an experiment.
Field experiment designed to compare survival of trout fry (newly hatched fish) exposed to constant versus varying metal concentrations, High Ore Creek, Montana. Water stored in the streamside tanks was used to refresh plastic containers in the stream. Water in the tanks had high, medium, or low metal concentrations. The fourth tank contained metal-free water used as an experimental control.

Scientists checking fish held in plastic containers.
Scientists checking fish held in plastic containers that were exposed to a constant metal concentration as part of a field experiment to compare survival of trout fry (newly hatched fish) exposed to constant versus varying metal concentrations, High Ore Creek, Montana.

Fish in flow-through containers that are sitting in High Ore Creek, Mont.
Fish held in flow-through containers are exposed to metal concentrations with daily high and low cycles (diel cycles). Scientists conducted a field experiment to compare survival of newly hatched trout (fry) exposed to constant versus varying metal concentrations, High Ore Creek, Montana. The experiment will help scientists understand the effect of diel variations in the concentration of metals on fish in mining affected areas.

Greenish-brown slime on cobbles in the streambed in High Ore Creek, Mont.
This greenish-brown slime found on cobbles of the streambed in High Ore Creek, Montana, is a biofilm. USGS scientists and their colleagues have demonstrated that biofilms can create daily variations in the concentrations of dissolved metals in mining-affected stream waters.

Graph with zinc concentrations measured during a field experiment.
Results of a 54.5-hour field experiment conducted on the banks of High Ore Creek, Montana, during August 2002. Biofilm material grown in zinc-free water in a laboratory was placed in a streamside aquarium. Filtered stream water was then pumped through the aquarium, and the aquarium was exposed to natural sunlight. The graph shows the cycling of zinc concentrations measured in water (red triangles) and the biofilm (blue circles) in the aquarium. The graph is a modified version of figure 3 from Morris and others, 2005.

Water tank with glass tube microelectrodes sticking into a biofilm sample.
Colleagues from the University of Wyoming used microelectrodes to measure the pH and dissolved zinc concentrations within biofilm grown in a laboratory aquarium. In this view, one can see the microelectrodes (glass tubes) sticking into a biofilm sample. The results of this work documented that when exposed to light, the biofilm absorbs zinc. Used with permission from Dr. Jeffrey M. Morris, Western Research Institute.

A scanning electron microscope photograph of individual algae cells.
A scanning electron microscope photograph of individual algae cells that form biofilms on rocks in some mining impacted streams. Biofilms are typically composed of several types of algae along with microscopic bacteria and fungi. When exposed to light, zinc is absorbed to the surface of the algae cells. Used with permission from Dr. Jeffrey M. Morris, Western Research Institute.

View of a water-quality sampling site on the Madison River, Yellowstone National Park, Montana.
The sampling site for investigating daily variations in mercury concentrations in the Madison River, Yellowstone National Park, Montana. A mobile water-quality laboratory and the gage house for a USGS streamflow station are shown on the far bank.

Downstream view of a sampling site on the Madison River, Yellowstone National Park, Montana.
Looking downstream at the sampling site for investigating daily variations in mercury concentrations, Madison River, Yellowstone National Park, Montana. Tubing was suspended from fence posts so water samples from the river could be pumped to a mobile laboratory.

Graph of total mercury concentration showing daily variation in Silver Creek, Mont.
Daily variations in mercury concentrations in Silver Creek, Montana. Concentrations of methyl mercury showed the greatest variation. Concentrations are in nanograms per liter (ng/L).

Graph of diurnal variation of dissolved metals in Prickly Pear Creek, Mont.
Graph of diurnal variation of dissolved metals in Prickly Pear Creek, Montana. Arsenic concentrations are in brown (squares), zinc concentrations are in red (circles), and manganese concentrations are in black (circles, starts out as the upper line).

Scientist collecting water-quality samples for metals analysis, Prickly Pear Creek, Mont.
USGS scientist collecting water-quality samples for metals analysis, Prickly Pear Creek, Montana., as part of a study of the diurnal variation of metals in streams.

Graph of seasonal variation in Zn concentrations in Prickly Pear Creek, Mont.
Seasonal variation in dissolved zinc concentrations in Prickly Pear Creek near Helena, Montana., 2000-03. Data shown by blue squares were collected during winter low flow. Data in red are for high flows during spring runoff. Data in green are for summer low flow.

Graph of diel variation of dissolved zinc concentrations in High Ore Creek, Mont.
Graph showing diel (diurnal or daily) variation of dissolved zinc concentrations in High Ore Creek, Montana., for five different years.

View of the grassy banks of High Ore Creek, Mont.
Photosynthesizing organisms living on the streambed of this section of High Ore Creek, Montana., can create diurnal metal variations very quickly over a short reach of stream.

Graph of diel variation of dissolved zinc concentrations in High Ore Creek, Mont.
Development of diurnal concentration cycles for dissolved zinc along a 2,100-foot reach of High Ore Creek, Montana. The upstream sampling site (circles) is just downstream from a small reservoir, which releases water with relatively constant zinc concentrations. As water travels to the middle (triangles) and lower (squares) sites, the daily variations in zinc concentration become progressively larger.

Fisher Creek in the New World mining district, Montana, near Yellowstone National Park.
Fisher Creek in the New World mining district, Montana, near Yellowstone National Park. Fisher Creek is the site of a study of how chemistry changes as water moves downstream.

A multiparameter meter in a mountain stream somewhere in Montana.
USGS scientists placed multiparameter meters in mountain streams in Montana to measure field parameters (pH, temperature, .) during an investigation of the daily (diurnal) changes of metal concentrations in mountain streams affected by drainage from abandoned mine sites.

View of an autosamper on the bank of a stream in Montana.
USGS scientists used an autosamper to pump water-quality samples from mountain streams in Montana at programmed intervals. Results from the analysis of the samples were used to investigate the diurnal changes in the concentrations of dissolved metals in streams.

Yellow iron oxide precipitates coating the streambed of Upper Daisy Creek, Montana.
Iron oxide precipitates (commonly know as yellow boy) coat the streambed of Upper Daisy Creek, Montana. Upper Daisy Creek receives drainage from several abandoned mine sites in the creek's watershed.

Graph of dissolved Cu, Zn, and Mn concentrations in Daisy Creek and Stillwater River, Mont.
Graph showing diurnal changes in dissolved copper (Cu, green trangles), zinc (Zn, red circles), and manganese (Mn, black circles, upper line) concentrations in Daisy Creek and Stillwater River, Montana. Different hydraulic and chemical conditions affect the magnitude of diurnal changes in concentration.

USGS scientist working along a section of the lower part of Daisy Creek, Mont.
USGS scientist working along a section of the lower part of Daisy Creek, Montana. USGS scientists documented that dissolved metals change throughout the day in mountain streams affected by abandoned mine lands.

  

More Information

References

Chapin, T.P., Nimick, D.A., Gammons, C.H., and Wanty, R.B., 2007, Diel cycling of zinc in a stream impacted by acid rock drainage--Initial results from a new in situ Zn analyzer: Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, v. 133, no. 1-3, p. 161-167, doi:10.1007/s10661-006-9569-y.

Gammons, C.H., Grant, T.M., Nimick, D.A., Parker, S.R., and DeGrandpre, M.D., 2007, Diel changes in water chemistry in an arsenic-rich stream and treatment-pond system: Science of the Total Environment, v. 384, no. 1-3, p. 433-451, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2007.06.029.

Gammons, C.H., Milodragovich, L., and Belanger-Woods, J., 2007, Influence of diurnal cycles on metal concentrations and loads in streams draining abandoned mine lands--An example from High Ore Creek, Montana: Environmental Geology, doi:10.1007/s00254-007-0676-z (Advanced Web release).

Gammons, C.H., Nimick, D.A., Parker, S.R., Cleasby, T.E., and McCleskey, R.B., 2005, Diel behavior of iron and other heavy metals in a mountain stream with acidic to neutral pH - Fisher Creek, Montana, USA: Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, v. 69, no. 10, p. 2505-2516, doi:10.1016/j.gca.2004.11.020.

Gammons, C.H., Shope, C.L., and Duaime, T.E., 2005, A 24 h investigation of the hydrogeochemistry of baseflow and stormwater in an urban area impacted by mining--Butte, Montana: Hydrological Processes, v. 19, no. 14, p. 2737-2753, doi:10.1002/hyp.5783.

Gammons, C.H., Woods, S.A., and Nimick, D.A., 2005, Diel behavior of rare earth elements in a mountain stream with acidic to neutral pH: Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, v. 69, no. 15, p. 3747-3758, doi:10.1016/j.gca.2005.03.019.

Jones, C.A., Nimick, D.A., and McCleskey, R.B., 2004, Relative effect of temperature and pH on diel cycling of dissolved trace elements in Prickly Pear Creek, Montana: Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, v. 153, no. 1-4, p. 95-113.

Lambing, J.H., Nimick, D.A., and Cleasby, T.E., 2004, Short-term variation of trace-element concentrations during base flow and rainfall runoff in small basins, August 1999, in Nimick, D.A., Church, S.E., and Finger, S.E., eds., Integrated investigations of environmental effects of historical mining in the Basin and Boulder Mining Districts, Boulder River watershed, Jefferson County, Montana: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1652-D7, p. 263-278.

Morris, J.M., Farag, A.M., Nimick, D.A., and Meyer, J.S., 2006, Light-mediated Zn uptake in photosynthetic biofilm: Hydrobiologia, v. 571, p. 361-371, doi:10.1007/s10750-006-0261-6.

Morris, J.M., and Meyer, J.S., 2006, Extracellular and intracellular uptake of zinc in a photosynthetic biofilm matrix: Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, v. 77, no. 1, p. 30-35, doi:10.1007/s00128-006-1028-5.

Morris, J.M., and Meyer, J.S., 2007, Photosynthetically mediated Zn removal from the water column in High Ore Creek, Montana: Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, v. 179, no. 1-4, p. 391-395, doi:10.1007/s11270-006-9232-9.

Morris, J.M., Nimick, D.A., Farag, A.M., and Meyer, J.S., 2005, Does biofilm contribute to diel cycling of Zn in High Ore Creek, Montana?: Biogeochemistry, v. 76, no. 2, p. 233-259, doi:10.1007/s10533-005-4774-2.

Nimick, D.A., 2003, Diurnal variation in trace-metal concentrations in streams: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 086-03, 4 p.

Nimick, D.A., Cleasby, T.E., and McCleskey, R.B., 2005, Seasonality of diel cycles of dissolved trace-metal concentrations in a Rocky Mountain stream: Environmental Geology, v. 47, no. 5, p. 603-614, doi:10.1007/s00254-004-1178-x.

Nimick, D.A., Gammons, C.H., Cleasby, T.E., Madison, J.P., Skaar, D., and Brick, C.M., 2003, Diel cycles in dissolved metal concentrations in streams--Occurrence and possible causes: Water Resources Research, v. 39, no. 9, p. HWC 2-1 to HWC 2-17, WR001571, doi:10.1029/2002WR001571.

Nimick, D.A., Harper, D.D., Farag, A.M., Cleasby, T.E., Macconnell, E., and Skaar, D., 2007, Influence of in-stream diel concentration cycles of dissolved trace metals on acute toxicity to one-year-old cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi): Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, v. 26, no. 12, p. 2667-2678, doi:10.1897/07-265.1.

Nimick, D.A., McCleskey, R.B., Gammons, C.H., and Parker, S.R., 2007, Diel mercury concentration cycles in streams affected by mining and geothermal discharge: Science of the Total Environment, v. 373, no. 1, p. 344-355, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2006.11.008.

Parker, S.R., Gammons, C.H., Jones, C.A., and Nimick, D.A., 2007, Role of hydrous iron oxide formation in attenuation and diel cycling of dissolved trace metals in a stream affected by acid rock drainage: Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, v. 181, no. 1-4, p. 247-263, doi:10.1007/s11270-006-9297-5.

Parker, S.R., Gammons, C.H., Poulson, S.R., and DeGrandpre, M.D., 2007, Diel variations in stream chemistry and isotopic composition of dissolved inorganic carbon, upper Clark Fork River, Montana, USA: Applied Geochemistry, v. 22, no. 7, p. 1329-1343, doi:10.1016/j.apgeochem.2007.02.007.

Parker, S.R., Poulson, S.R., Gammons, C.H., and DeGrandpre, M.D., 2005, Biogeochemical controls on diel cycling of stable isotopes of dissolved 02 and dissolved inorganic carbon in the Big Hole River, Montana: Environmental Science and Technology, v. 39, no. 18, p. 7134-7140, doi:10.1021/es0505595.

Shope, C.L., Xie, Y., and Gammons, C.H., 2006, The influence of hydrous Mn-Zn oxides on diel cycling of Zn in an alkaline stream draining abandoned mine lands: Applied Geochemistry, v. 21, no. 3, p. 476-491, doi:10.1016/j.apgeochem.2005.11.004.

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