Study reports fourfold increases in levels of zinc in the Upper Snake River
Scientists have measured huge increases in concentrations of zinc in Deer Creek, near Montezuma, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.
Lower water levels resulting from earlier snowmelt may leave streamside rocks exposed to weathering for longer periods of time, resulting in increasing concentrations of metals in Colorado streams like the Snake River. Bob Berwyn photo.
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Even without significant impacts from abandoned mines or other human activities, concentrations of heavy metals in the upper Snake River have increased by as much 400 percent in recent decades, with potentially serious consequences in a watershed that, in certain reaches, is already deadly to aquatic bugs and trout.
The also study illustrates the potential for comparable increases of metals in similar Western watersheds, said USGS scientist Andrew Todd, lead researcher on the project.
The observed spike in metals sent researchers on a quest to try and figure why levels of zinc and other metals are increasing so dramatically in the small headwaters streams above Montezuma, Colorado. Concentrations of zinc, for example, have increased fourfold in the past 30 years.
By default, they think global warming may be a significant factor.
“This is a really undisturbed watershed as far as anything that might change the water chemistry,” said USGS scientist Andy Manning. “It’s really important to be clear about the conclusions. What we found is that the concentrations are going up. Then we laid out some hypotheses, and the cause appears to be climate warming, in general,” Manning said. (more…)
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