Abstract Title

Road Salt Runoff in Freshwater Constructed Wetlands: A Year in the Life

Abstract

Road salts, brines, and other de-icers are used to melt snow and ice on impervious surfaces. Runoff resulting from this process is high in salt ions such as sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. These ions end up in our waterways, and contribute to the problem of increasing salinity in freshwater ecosystems. In this study, two constructed freshwater wetlands near Kent State University were monitored for one year by measuring conductivity with in situ conductivity probes, concentration of road salt ions in surface water samples, and salt content in plant tissue. We assessed seasonal trends in road salt runoff as well as estimated a mass balance for road salt ions in these systems. We found that the wetlands were a considerable sink for road salt ions over the course of the year. Moreover, the degree to which each wetland retained the ions was not the same. The wetland with continuous flow and comparatively less pore space retained less salt than the intermittently flowing, deeper wetland. This notable imbalance in the salt budget of these wetlands, despite their differences in flow regime, is symptomatic of unsustainable road salt practices in these and similar watersheds. Should this pattern continue, it could result in a large release of saline water into downstream freshwater ecosystems. Long term studies like this are critical to addressing these issues, and these findings can be used to inform management decisions not only in Kent, Ohio, but also in any city to better balance ecosystem function with public safety.

Modified Abstract

Road salt runoff contributes to the problem of increasing salinity in freshwater ecosystems. We measured conductivity, concentration of road salt ions, and salt content in plant tissue in two constructed wetlands near Kent State University to assess seasonal trends in road salt runoff and estimate a mass balance for salt ions. We found a net storage of salt ions, which differed with flow regime. This notable imbalance in the salt budget is symptomatic of unsustainable road salt practices, and it could result in a large release of saline water into downstream freshwater ecosystems. These findings can be used to inform management decisions not only in Kent, Ohio, but also in any city to better balance ecosystem function with public safety.

Research Category

Biology/Ecology

Primary Author's Major

Earth Science

Mentor #1 Information

Lauren

Kinsman-Costello

Presentation Format

Poster

Start Date

April 2019

Research Area

Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecology

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Apr 9th, 1:00 PM

Road Salt Runoff in Freshwater Constructed Wetlands: A Year in the Life

Road salts, brines, and other de-icers are used to melt snow and ice on impervious surfaces. Runoff resulting from this process is high in salt ions such as sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. These ions end up in our waterways, and contribute to the problem of increasing salinity in freshwater ecosystems. In this study, two constructed freshwater wetlands near Kent State University were monitored for one year by measuring conductivity with in situ conductivity probes, concentration of road salt ions in surface water samples, and salt content in plant tissue. We assessed seasonal trends in road salt runoff as well as estimated a mass balance for road salt ions in these systems. We found that the wetlands were a considerable sink for road salt ions over the course of the year. Moreover, the degree to which each wetland retained the ions was not the same. The wetland with continuous flow and comparatively less pore space retained less salt than the intermittently flowing, deeper wetland. This notable imbalance in the salt budget of these wetlands, despite their differences in flow regime, is symptomatic of unsustainable road salt practices in these and similar watersheds. Should this pattern continue, it could result in a large release of saline water into downstream freshwater ecosystems. Long term studies like this are critical to addressing these issues, and these findings can be used to inform management decisions not only in Kent, Ohio, but also in any city to better balance ecosystem function with public safety.