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Geochemistry and water dynamics: application to short time-scale flood phenomena in a small Mediterranean catchment:I. Alkalis, alkali-earths and Sr isotopes

Chemical Geology
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s0009-2541(97)00004-1
  • Strontium Isotopes
  • Flood
  • River Waters
  • Anthropic Catchment
  • Major Elements
  • Trace Elements
  • Agricultural Science
  • Chemistry
  • Earth Science


Abstract We report major, trace elements and Sr isotope data for water samples taken regularly during a four-day-long September flood of a Mediterranean river, the Vène (Hérault, S. France). The objective is to combine all these data into a dynamic model that describes the origin(s) and movements of waters and their loads. This river drains the runoff from a small, mainly carbonate, partly karstified watershed with Miocene and Jurassic lithologies. The watershed is also impacted by both agricultural and urban activities. Both the dissolved and the particulate loads were analyzed. Concentrations of the dissolved components show major remobilization of almost all elements during the first few hours of the flood (water treatment plants and aerosol scavenging), followed by a sharp concentration decrease. Some major species return to their previous summer values (Ca, HCO 3) while others reach low `background' levels (Na, K, Cl, S0 4). Some trace elements (Rb, Sr, Cs) show similar behaviour but (Ba) appears somewhat unaffected. Trace element concentrations and ratios define two main periods (three in the suspended particulate matter). Ratios do not allow distinguishing between the three main sources for the dissolved load in the first period (Miocene, Jurassic, water treatment plants), but clearly show the Jurassic karst influence later on. The 87Sr /86Sr of the suspended particulate matter is more variable and more radiogenic than in the dissolved phase. Variations in concentration ratios and Sr isotope composition in particulates indicate the large and variable contribution of Miocene silicates with some carbonate. However, there is a need for another component with [Rb]/[Sr] higher than bedrocks, internal or external to the watershed, possibly due to differential erosion. Dissolved Ca and Mg fluxes during the flood were calculated at 0.26 ton and 0.029 ton/km 2, respectively. Even though the carbonate nature of the watershed restricts variability in Sr isotope composition in the dissolved load, we distinguish several endmembers: seawater (≈marine rain), Miocene marls, Jurassic limestones, water treatment plants (and possibly another attributable to fertilizers). Combined with major and trace element variations, Sr isotope fluctuations indicate time-varying proportions of different water endmembers at the outflow and suggest a general dynamic model. Based on PCA (principal component analysis), a 3D representation allows to visualize the geochemical evolution of the Vène waters. In particular, Sr isotopes clearly indicate that the inflow of karstic waters during the flood was not continuous but occurred as a series of marked oscillations between flowing waters with chemical signature of Miocene lithologies and increasing flushes of deeper waters that interacted with Jurassic lithologies.

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