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Return flows from beaver ponds enhance floodplain-to-river metals exchange in alluvial mountain catchments.

  • Author(s): Briggs, Martin A
  • Wang, Chen
  • Day-Lewis, Frederick D
  • Williams, Ken H
  • Dong, Wenming
  • Lane, John W
  • et al.
Abstract

River to floodplain hydrologic connectivity is strongly enhanced by beaver- (Castor canadensis) engineered channel water diversions. The hydroecological impacts are wide ranging and generally positive, however, the hydrogeochemical characteristics of beaver-induced flowpaths have not been thoroughly examined. Using a suite of complementary ground- and drone-based heat tracing and remote sensing methodology we characterized the physical template of beaver-induced floodplain exchange for two alluvial mountain streams near Crested Butte, Colorado, USA. A flowpath-oriented perspective to water quality sampling allowed characterization of the chemical evolution of channel water diverted through floodplain beaver ponds and ultimately back to the channel in 'beaver pond return flows'. Subsurface return flow seepages were universally suboxic, while ponds and surface return flows showed a range of oxygen concentration due to in-situ photosynthesis and atmospheric mixing. Median concentrations of reduced metals: manganese (Mn), iron (Fe), aluminum (Al), and arsenic (As) were substantially higher along beaver-induced flowpaths than in geologically controlled seepages and upstream main channel locations. The areal footprint of reduced return seepage flowpaths were imaged with surface electromagnetic methods, indicating extensive zones of high-conductivity shallow groundwater flowing back toward the main channels and emerging at relatively warm bank seepage zones observed with infrared. Multiple-depth redox dynamics within one focused seepage zone showed coupled variation over time, likely driven by observed changes in seepage rate that may be controlled by pond stage. High-resolution times series of dissolved Mn and Fe collected downstream of the beaver-impacted reaches demonstrated seasonal dynamics in mixed river metal concentrations. Al time series concentrations showed proportional change to Fe at the smaller stream location, indicating chemically reduced flowpaths were sourcing Al to the channel. Overall our results indicated beaver-induced floodplain exchanges create important, and perhaps dominant, transport pathways for floodplain metals by expanding chemically-reduced zones paired with strong advective exchange.

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