Isotopic Variations of Dissolved Copper and Zinc in Stream Waters Affected by Historical Mining


Zinc and Cu play important roles in the biogeochemistry of natural systems, and it is likely that these interactions result in mass-dependent fractionations of their stable isotopes. In this study, we examine the relative abundances of dissolved Zn and Cu isotopes in a variety of stream waters draining six historical mining districts located in the United States and Europe. Our goals were to (1) determine whether streams from different geologic settings have unique or similar Zn and Cu isotopic signatures and (2) to determine whether Zn and Cu isotopic signatures change in response to changes in dissolved metal concentrations over well-defined diel (24-h) cycles.
Average δ66Zn and δ65Cu values for streams varied from +0.02‰ to +0.46‰ and -0.7‰ to +1.4‰, respectively, demonstrating that Zn and Cu isotopes are heterogeneous among the measured streams. Zinc or Cu isotopic changes were not detected within the resolution of our measurements over diel cycles for most streams. However, diel changes in Zn isotopes were recorded in one stream where the fluctuations of dissolved Zn were the largest. We calculate an apparent separation factor of ~0.3‰ (66/64Zn) between the dissolved and solid Zn reservoirs in this stream with the solid taking up the lighter Zn isotope. The preference of the lighter isotope in the solid reservoir may reflect metabolic uptake of Zn by microorganisms. Additional field investigations must evaluate the contributions of soils, rocks, minerals, and anthropogenic components to Cu and Zn isotopic fluxes in natural waters. Moreover, rigorous experimental work is necessary to quantify fractionation factors for the biogeochemical reactions that are likely to impact Cu and Zn isotopes in hydrologic systems. This initial investigation of Cu and Zn isotopes in stream waters suggests that these isotopes may be powerful tools for probing biogeochemical processes in surface waters on a variety of temporal and spatial scales.


Geosciences and Geological and Petroleum Engineering

Keywords and Phrases

biogeochemistry; copper; isotopic fractionation; mining; stable isotope; streamwater; zinc

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Article - Journal

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© 2008 Elsevier, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Jan 2008