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Hydro-EKG: In-Stream Streaming-potential (SP) Electrical Monitoring of the Lifeblood of Watersheds during Disturbance

Active Dates 9/1/2022-5/31/2024
Program Area Atmospheric System Research
Project Description
Objective: This project aims to enhance and extend existing collaboration between a Minority Serving Institution (NMSU) and a DOE National Laboratory (ORNL), it is designed to support the environmental science investigations focused on biogeochemistry associated with hyporheic exchange, and it will develop a monitoring method for transient, hydrologic disturbance impacts on hyporheic exchange.

The goal of the proposed work is to quantify transient variability of water sources and hyporheic zone fluxes between groundwater and surface water in East Fork Poplar Creek (EFPC) in Oak Ridge, TN, which is an ORNL field study area with existing ancillary data collection instrumentation. We propose an environmental EKG method to monitor the “pulse” and health of streams and rivers with an emphasis on the dynamics surrounding hydrologic disturbances.

The specific objectives include using geophysical and sensor techniques to indirectly and non-destructively characterize and monitor the exchange of the groundwater and surface water across the hyporheic zone. We propose to develop and test use of self- or streaming-potential (SP) as a noninvasive and repeatable geophysical sensor method for monitoring groundwater exchange with EFPC. We hypothesize that electrical geophysics using SP for transient monitoring in streams could act as an EKG for streams during hydrologic disturbances.

Description: We will develop the SP geophysical method for monitoring groundwater exchange with EFPC as a function of time to characterize the seasonal and storm-event hydrologic disturbance that alter how water and solutes are released into EFPC during transient perturbations and variations in the hydrology. We will also examine storm events and seasonal perturbations or disturbances on the stream concentration-discharge (C-Q) hysteresis in combination with SP monitoring to evaluate impacts of potential transitions in gaining and losing stream conditions. We will compare C-Q and SP transient monitoring at two field sites to compare a more humid and perennial stream (i.e., EFPC in TN) to a semi-arid and intermittent/ephemeral stream (i.e., lower Rio Grande in NM).

Impact: Prediction of biogeochemistry and ecosystem functions at watershed scales requires a detailed characterization of river corridor connectivity. However, current approaches to quantify hyporheic connectivity (and its biogeochemical potential) at this scale have not developed using noninvasive geophysical methods for transient monitoring of storm events and seasonal impacts on hyporheic exchange. Improvements in ecosystem functional representation through hydro-biogeochemical processes requires characterization of hyporheic exchange through hydraulic and climatic perturbations such as drought and storm-event flooding.

Our study will provide the transient Hydro-EKG monitoring method for hydrologic disturbances and perturbations to be assessed with noninvasive sensor data collection to decrease effort, cost, and safety risks of manual in-stream measurements. We anticipate these methods will assist in identifying transient “hot moments” of enhancement in biogeochemical reactivity and cycling within hyporheic zones by monitoring the transient dynamics of surface water-groundwater exchange. Underrepresented or minority students will help conduct this research and will develop access and a collaboration network at ORNL and throughout the DOE complex.
Award Recipient(s)
  • New Mexico State University, Las Cruces (PI: Carroll, Kenneth)