NOM degradation during river infiltration: Effects of the climate variables temperature and discharge
Most peri-alpine shallow aquifers fed by rivers are oxic and the drinking water derived by riverbank filtration is generally of excellent quality. However, observations during past heat waves suggest that water quality may be affected by climate change due to effects on redox processes such as aerobic respiration, denitrification, reductive dissolution of manganese(III/IV)- and iron(III)(hydr)oxides that occur during river infiltration. To assess the dependence of these redox processes on the climate-related variables temperature and discharge, we performed periodic and targeted (summer and winter) field sampling campaigns at the Thur River, Switzerland, and laboratory column experiments simulating the field conditions. Typical summer and winter field conditions could be successfully simulated by the column experiments. Dissolved organic matter (DOM) was found not to be a major electron donor for aerobic respiration in summer and the DOM consumption did not reveal a significant correlation with temperature and discharge. It is hypothesized that under summer conditions, organic matter associated with the aquifer material (particulate organic matter, POM) is responsible for most of the consumption of dissolved oxygen (DO), which was the most important electron acceptor in both the field and the column system. For typical summer conditions at temperatures >20 °C, complete depletion of DO was observed in the column system and in a piezometer located only a few metres from the river. Both in the field system and the column experiments, nitrate acted as a redox buffer preventing the release of manganese(II) and iron(II). For periodic field observations over five years, DO consumption showed a pronounced temperature dependence (correlation coefficient r = 0.74) and therefore a seasonal pattern, which seemed to be mostly explained by the temperature dependence of the calculated POM consumption (r = 0.7). The river discharge was found to be highly and positively correlated with DO consumption (r = 0.85), suggesting an enhanced POM input during flood events. This high correlation could only be observed for the low-temperature range (T < 15 °C). For temperatures >15 °C, DO consumption was already high (almost complete) and the impact of discharge could not be resolved. Based on our results, we estimate the risk for similar river-infiltration systems to release manganese(II) and iron(II) to be low during future average summer conditions. However, long-lasting heat waves might lead to a consumption of the nitrate buffer, inducing a mobilization of manganese and iron.