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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 248:245-255 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps248245

Mechanism for transport of oil-contaminated groundwater into pink salmon redds

Mark G. Carls1,*, Robert E. Thomas2, Michael R. Lilly3, Stanley D. Rice1

1US National Marine Fisheries Service, Auke Bay Laboratory, 11305 Glacier Hwy, Juneau, Alaska 99801, USA
2Department of Biological Sciences, California State University, Chico, California 95929, USA
3GW Scientific, PO Box 81538, Fairbanks, Alaska 99708, USA

ABSTRACT: Groundwater movement from oil-contaminated intertidal beaches to surface and subsurface water of salmon streams in Prince William Sound, Alaska, was studied to determine if transport of dissolved petroleum hydrocarbons to incubating pink salmon eggs (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) was plausible. Beaches surrounding 31% of the streams in the Sound were extensively oiled in 1989; salmon egg mortality was elevated even though little oil was observed in stream gravel. In 2000, fluorescent tracer dyes injected into 2 of these beaches during ebb tides were subsequently observed throughout most of the intertidal portion of each watershed, including surface and subsurface (hyporheic) stream water. Mean horizontal groundwater flow was rapid through the porous gravel (4 to 7 m h-1) and was driven by hydraulic gradients within beach groundwater. When different dyes were simultaneously released at ebb tide on opposite sides of a stream, each dye was detected in the beach opposite release within the first tidal ebb. Dye was moved vertically upward at least 0.5 m by subsequent incoming tides. Thus, tidal cycles and resultant hydraulic gradients provide a mechanism for groundwater transport of soluble and slightly soluble contaminants (such as oil) from beaches surrounding streams into the hyporheic zone where pink salmon eggs incubate.

KEY WORDS: Intertidal groundwater · Hydraulic gradient · Contaminant transport · Habitat damage · Pink salmon · Egg contamination · PAH

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