Mitchell, A. C. and Brown, G. H. and Fuge, R. (2001)

Minor and trace elements export from a glacierized Alpine headwater catchment (Haut Glacier d'Arolla, Switzerland)

Cite key
Hydrological Processes
Major ion concentrations in meltwaters draining glacial environments have been widely reported. However, concentrations of minor and trace elements have received scant attention. This study presents trace and minor element variations in bulk meltwaters draining Haut Glacier d’Arolla (Switzerland) based on twice-daily sampling throughout the 1999 ablation season, which represents the most detailed meltwater quality dataset to date. In order to assess the mode of export from the catchment, these elements are partitioned into (i) ‘dissolved’ and (ii) ‘particulate-associated’ minor and trace element components. A computer-based speciation model (PHREEQCi) was applied to the bulk meltwater data, suggesting that Ba, Be, Cd, Cu, Li, Rb and Sr exist primarily as mobile monovalent or divalent dissolved cations, which may be involved in interactions with suspended sediment surfaces. Conversely, the model predicts the precipitation of Fe, Al, Mn and Cr (oxi)hydroxides, suggesting these species may be predominantly transported as colloids, which may remove other minor and trace elements from solution by co-precipitation reactions. Laboratory leaching experiments on suspended sediments and fresh rock powder suggests that minor and trace element concentrations may also be influenced by (oxi)hydroxide precipitation and adsorption–desorption reactions with suspended sediment surfaces. The quantity and transport mode of trace and minor elements may influence their bioavailability downstream of glacierized headwater catchments. Further, the enrichment of many dissolved minor and trace elements in meltwaters compared with world stream-waters, coupled with the timing of water and sediment delivery during the summer months, may have implications for downstream aquatic environments.