Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



Frontiers in Environmental Science






The subterranean estuary (STE) has been historically defined in terms of the mixing of saline and fresh water, in an analogy to surface estuaries. However, redox gradients are also a defining characteristic of the STE and influence its role as a source or sink for metals in the environment. Approaching the STE from a redox-focused biogeochemical perspective (e.g., considering the role of microbial respiration and availability of organic matter) provides the ability to quantify drivers of metal transport across spatial and temporal scales. This study measured the groundwater composition of a shallow STE over 2 years and used multiple linear regression to characterize the influence of salinity and redox chemistry on the behavior of redox-sensitive metals (RSMs) including Mo, U, V, and Cr. Molybdenum and uranium were both supplied to the STE by surface water, but differed in their removal mechanisms and seasonal behavior. Molybdenum showed non-conservative removal by reaction with sulfide in all seasons. Sulfide concentrations at this site were consistently higher than required for quantitative reaction with Mo (10 µM sulfide), evidently leading to quantitative removal at the same depth regardless of season. In contrast, U appeared to depend directly on microbial activity for removal, and showed more extensive removal at shallower depths in summer. Both V and Cr were elevated in meteoric groundwater (2.5–297 nM and 2.6–236 nM, respectively), with higher endmember concentrations in summer. Both V and Cr also showed non-conservative addition within the STE relative to conservative mixing among the observed endmembers. The mobility of V and Cr in the STE, and therefore their supply to the coastal ocean, was controlled by the availability of dissolved organic matter and Fe, suggesting V and Cr were potentially complexed in the colloidal fraction. Complexation by different organic matter pools led to seasonal variations in V but greater interannual variability of Cr. These results reveal distinct behaviors of RSMs in response to seasonal biogeochemical processes that drive microbial activity, organic matter composition, and complexation by inorganic species.


doi: 10.3389/fenvs.2021.613191


coastal groundwater; oxyanion-forming elements; redox-sensitive metals; submarine groundwater discharge; subterranean estuary (354 kB)
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