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  1. Semrau, Jeremy D. (Ed.)
    Streams impacted by historic mining activity are characterized by acidic pH, unique microbial communities, and abundant metal-oxide precipitation, all of which can influence groundwater-surface water exchange. We investigate how metal-oxide precipitates and hyporheic mixing mediate the composition of microbial communities in two streams receiving acid-rock and mine drainage near Silverton, Colorado, USA. A large, neutral pH hyporheic zone facilitated the precipitation of metal particles/colloids in hyporheic porewaters. A small, low pH hyporheic zone, limited by the presence of a low-permeability, iron-oxyhydroxide layer known as ferricrete, led to the formation of steep geochemical gradients and high dissolved-metal concentrations. To determine how these two hyporheic systems influence microbiome composition, we installed well clusters and deployed in situ microcosms in each stream to sample porewaters and sediments for 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Results indicated that distinct hydrogeochemical conditions were present above and below the ferricrete in the low pH system. A positive feedback loop may be present in the low pH stream where microbially-mediated precipitation of iron-oxides contribute to additional clogging of hyporheic pore spaces, separating abundant, iron-oxidizing bacteria (Gallionella spp.) above the ferricrete from rare, low-abundance bacteria below the ferricrete. Metal precipitates and colloids that formed in the neutral pH hyporheic zone were associated with a more diverse phylogenetic community of nonmotile, nutrient-cycling bacteria that may be transported through hyporheic pore spaces. In summary, biogeochemical conditions influence, and are influenced by, hyporheic mixing, which mediates the distribution of micro-organisms and thus the cycling of metals in streams receiving acid-rock and mine drainage. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 23, 2025
  2. null (Ed.)
    High concentrations of trace metal(loid)s exported from abandoned mine wastes and acid rock drainage pose a risk to the health of aquatic ecosystems. To determine if and when the hyporheic zone mediates metal(loid) export, we investigated the relationship between streamflow, groundwater–stream connectivity, and subsurface metal(loid) concentrations in two ~1-km stream reaches within the Bonita Peak Mining District, a US Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site located near Silverton, Colorado, USA. The hyporheic zones of reaches in two streams—Mineral Creek and Cement Creek—were characterized using a combination of salt-tracer injection tests, transient-storage modeling, and geochemical sampling of the shallow streambed (<0.7 m). Based on these data, we present two conceptual models for subsurface metal(loid) behavior in the hyporheic zones, including (1) well-connected systems characterized by strong hyporheic mixing of infiltrating stream water and upwelling groundwater and (2) poorly connected systems delineated by physical barriers that limit hyporheic mixing. The comparatively large hyporheic zone and high hydraulic conductivities of Mineral Creek created a connected stream–groundwater system, where mixing of oxygen-rich stream water and metal-rich groundwater facilitated the precipitation of metal colloids in the shallow subsurface. In Cement Creek, the precipitation of iron oxides at depth (~0.4 m) created a low-hydraulic-conductivity barrier between surface water and groundwater. Cemented iron oxides were an important regulator of metal(loid) concentrations in this poorly connected stream–groundwater system due to the formation of strong redox gradients induced by a relatively small hyporheic zone and high fluid residence times. A comparison of conceptual models to stream concentration–discharge relationships exhibited a clear link between geochemical processes occurring within the hyporheic zone of the well-connected system and export of particulate Al, Cu, Fe, and Mn, while the poorly connected system did not have a notable influence on metal concentration–discharge trends. Mineral Creek is an example of a hyporheic system that serves as a natural dissolved metal(loid) sink, whereas poorly connected systems such as Cement Creek may require a combination of subsurface remediation of sediments and mitigation of upstream, iron-rich mine drainages to reduce metal export. 
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  3. Abstract

    More above‐ground biomass (kg m−2) grows in the northern Appalachian Mountains (USA) in forests on shale than on sandstone at all landscape positions other than ridgetops. This has been tentatively attributed to physical (rather than chemical) attributes of the substrates, such as elevation, particle size, and water capacity. However, shales have generally similar phosphorus (P) concentrations to sandstones and, in the Valley and Ridge province, they erode more quickly. This led us to hypothesize that faster replenishment of the lithogenic nutrient P in shale soils through erosion + soil production could instead control the differences in biomass. To test this, soils and foliage from 10 sites on shales and sandstones in the northern Appalachians from roughly the same elevation and aspect were analysed. We discovered that, when controlling for location, concentrations of bioavailable P in soils and P in foliage were higher and P resorbed from senescing red oak leaves was lower on slower‐eroding sandstone than on faster‐eroding shale. Lower resorption generally can be attributed to lower P limitation for trees. Further investigation of weathering and erosion on one of the sandstone–shale pairs within a larger, paired watershed study revealed that the differences in P concentrations in biomass and foliage between lithologies likely developed because sandstones act as ‘collectors’ that trap nutrients from residual and exogenous sources, while shales erode quickly and thus promote production of soil from bedrock that releases P to ecosystems. We concluded that the combined effects of differential rates of dust collection and erosion results in roughly equal biomass growing on sandstone and shale ridgetops. This work emphasizes the balance between a landscape's capacity to collect dust versus produce soil in controlling bioavailability of nutrients.

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  4. Abstract. Many scientists have begun to refer to the earth surface environment from the upper canopy to the depths of bedrock as the critical zone (CZ). Identification of the CZ as an integral object worthy of study implicitly posits that the study of the whole earth surface will provide benefits that do not arise when studying the individual parts. To study the CZ, however, requires prioritizing among the measurements that can be made – and we do not generally agree on the priorities. Currently, the Susquehanna Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory (SSHCZO) is expanding from a small original focus area (0.08km2, Shale Hills catchment), to a larger watershed (164km2, Shavers Creek watershed) and is grappling with the prioritization. This effort is an expansion from a monolithologic first-order forested catchment to a watershed that encompasses several lithologies (shale, sandstone, limestone) and land use types (forest, agriculture). The goal of the project remains the same: to understand water, energy, gas, solute, and sediment (WEGSS) fluxes that are occurring today in the context of the record of those fluxes over geologic time as recorded in soil profiles, the sedimentary record, and landscape morphology.

    Given the small size of the Shale Hills catchment, the original design incorporated measurement of as many parameters as possible at high temporal and spatial density. In the larger Shavers Creek watershed, however, we must focus the measurements. We describe a strategy of data collection and modeling based on a geomorphological and land use framework that builds on the hillslope as the basic unit. Interpolation and extrapolation beyond specific sites relies on geophysical surveying, remote sensing, geomorphic analysis, the study of natural integrators such as streams, groundwaters or air, and application of a suite of CZ models. We hypothesize that measurements of a few important variables at strategic locations within a geomorphological framework will allow development of predictive models of CZ behavior. In turn, the measurements and models will reveal how the larger watershed will respond to perturbations both now and into the future.

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