Relating hyporheic fluxes, residence times, and redox-sensitive biogeochemical processes upstream of beaver dams

Martin A. Briggs, Laura K. Lautz, Danielle K. Hare, Ricardo González-Pinzón

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Abstract: Small dams enhance the development of patchy microenvironments along stream corridors by trapping sediment and creating complex streambed morphologies. This patchiness drives intricate hyporheic flux patterns that govern the exchange of O2 and redox-sensitive solutes between the water column and the stream bed. We used multiple tracer techniques, naturally occurring and injected, to evaluate hyporheic flow dynamics and associated biogeochemical cycling and microbial reactivity around 2 beaver dams in Wyoming (USA). High-resolution fiber-optic distributed temperature sensing was used to collect temperature data over 9 vertical streambed profiles and to generate comprehensive vertical flux maps using 1-dimensional (1-D) heat-transport modeling. Coincident with these locations, vertical profiles of hyporheic water were collected every week and analyzed for dissolved O2, pH, dissolved organic C, and several conservative and redox-sensitive solutes. In addition, hyporheic and net stream aerobic microbial reactivity were analyzed with a constant-rate injection of the biologically sensitive resazurin (Raz) smart tracer. The combined results revealed a heterogeneous system with rates of downwelling hyporheic flow organized by morphologic unit and tightly coupled to the redox conditions of the subsurface. Principal component analysis was used to summarize the variability of all redox-sensitive species, and results indicated that hyporheic water varied from oxic-stream-like to anoxic-reduced in direct response to the hydrodynamic conditions and associated residence times. The anaerobic transition threshold predicted by the mean O2 Damköhler number seemed to overestimate the actual transition as indicated by multiple secondary electron acceptors, illustrating the gradient nature of anaerobic transition. Temporal flux variability in low-flux morphologies generated a much greater range in hyporheic redox conditions compared to high-flux zones, and chemical responses to changing flux rates were consistent with those predicted from the empirical relationship between redox condition and residence time. The Raz tracer revealed that hyporheic flow paths have strong net aerobic respiration, particularly at higher residence time, but this reactive exchange did not affect the net stream signal at the reach scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)622-641
Number of pages20
JournalFreshwater Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2013


  • beaver dam
  • biogeochemistry
  • hotspot
  • hyporheic
  • nitrate
  • redox
  • resazurin
  • residence time
  • smart tracer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Aquatic Science


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