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Title: Sensors track mobilization of ‘chemical cocktails’ in streams impacted by road salts in the Chesapeake Bay watershed

Increasing trends in base cations, pH, and salinity of freshwaters have been documented in US streams over 50 years. These patterns, collectively known as freshwater salinization syndrome (FSS), are driven by multiple processes, including applications of road salt and human-accelerated weathering of impervious surfaces, reductions in acid rain, and other anthropogenic legacies of change. FSS mobilizes chemical cocktails of distinct elemental mixtures via ion exchange, and other biogeochemical processes. We analyzed impacts of FSS on streamwater chemistry across five urban watersheds in the Baltimore-Washington, USA metropolitan region. Through combined grab-sampling and high-frequency monitoring by USGS sensors, regression relationships were developed among specific conductance and major ion and trace metal concentrations. These linear relationships were statistically significant in most of the urban streams (e.g.R2= 0.62 and 0.43 for Mn and Cu, respectively), and showed that specific conductance could be used as a proxy to predict concentrations of major ions and trace metals. Major ions and trace metals analyzed via linear regression and principal component analysis showed co-mobilization (i.e. correlations among combinations of specific conductance (SC), Mn, Cu, Sr2+, and all base cations during certain times of year and hydrologic conditions). Co-mobilization of metals and base cations was strongest during peak more » snow events but could continue over 24 h after SC peaked, suggesting ongoing cation exchange in soils and stream sediments. Mn and Cu concentrations predicted from SC as a proxy indicated acceptable goodness of fit for predictedvs.observed values (Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency > 0.28). Metals concentrations remained elevated for days after SC decreased following snowstorms, suggesting lag times and continued mobilization after road salt use. High-frequency sensor monitoring and proxies associated with FSS may help better predict contaminant pulses and contaminant exceedances in response to salinization and impacts on aquatic life, infrastructure, and drinking water.

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Environmental Research Letters
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Article No. 035017
IOP Publishing
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National Science Foundation
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