Trace Metals and Specific Conductivity Associated with Land Use and Geology in Central Appalachia

Rachel Guevara and Teresa Brown, PhD, Department of Natural Sciences, The University of Virginia’s College at Wise, 1 College Avenue, Wise, VA 24293

Previous water quality studies performed throughout the central Appalachian region of Virginia have shown higher-than-expected Specific Conductivity (SpC) and pH parameters across the headwaters, regardless of geologic setting. SpC is a monitoring parameter that estimates the concentration of dissolved minerals in solution (in groundwater and surface water) based on their ability to conduct electricity. In many cases, waters draining clastic rocks and mined areas are strongly alkaline, possibly due to calcareous minerals and trace metals offsetting the acidity of pyrite oxidation. Some trace metals, such as selenium and strontium, have been associated with human bone disorders and weakened shells in mussels and bivalves. The ultimate goal of this research project was to better understand the factors contributing to elevated dissolved solids, to geochemically characterize the constituents of SpC for a given site, and to correlate these data with land use, topography, vegetative cover, and geology. Geographical data and mining permit information were collected from ArcGIS-based maps available through the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy and the Division of Geology and Mineral Resources websites, as well as the U.S. Geological Survey’s Streamer program. Duplicate samples for metals analysis and fecal indicator bacteria (FIB), along with SpC, pH, and temperature measurements, were collected at streams, springs, and valley fills selected through the geographical analysis. Filtered water samples were acidified in the lab prior to analysis by Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS). Though the research is still ongoing, preliminary results suggest that the highest SpC and pH occur in areas of coal mining, limestone quarrying, and other resource extraction in the headwaters, producing effects that persist far downstream in the Clinch and Powell River watersheds.

Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: Rachel Guevara

Institution: The University of Virginia's College at Wise

Type: Poster

Subject: Geography/Geology

Status: Approved

Time and Location

Session: Poster 7
Date/Time: Tue 3:30pm-4:30pm
Session Number: 5075