Heterogeneous Vertical Flow through Oxbow-Wetlands: Soil Chemistry, Wetland Tree Growth, and Groundwater Recharge

Author(s): Lahiri, C.; Davidson, G.; Threlkeld, S.

The floodplain of the lower Mississippi River is littered with oxbow lake-wetland systems supporting dense forests of bald cypress and tupelo gum. Fine-grained sediments infilling the oxbows form low hydraulic conductivity plugs that should minimize communication between surface water and underlying groundwater, and produce pervasive reducing conditions in the soils during flooding. In forested oxbows, however, extensive root networks and decaying fallen trees have the potential to produce zones of higher conductivity and preferential vertical flow pathways. Evidence of preferential flow paths has been documented in Sky Lake, an abandoned meander loop of the Mississippi River in northeastern Mississippi. Redox potential measured hourly over an 18 month period revealed isolated zones that became oxidizing when surface water levels exceeded one meter. Changes in groundwater levels in a well located inside the meander loop were also consistent with recharge from the overlying oxbow. Advective delivery of oxygen through portions of the root zone has the potential to enhance tree growth during periods of extended inundation. Several cypress trees have been outfitted to continuously monitor sap flow and radial expansion to identify possible links between growth and changes in soil redox potential that accompany changes in water depth.

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