The potamochemical symphony: new progress in the high-frequency acquisition of stream chemical data
Abstract. Our understanding of hydrological and chemical processes at the catchment scale is limited by our capacity to record the full breadth of the information carried by river chemistry, both in terms of sampling frequency and precision. Here, we present a proof-of-concept study of a
lab in the field called the
River Lab (RL), based on the idea of permanently installing a suite of laboratory instruments in the field next to a river. Housed in a small shed, this set of instruments performs analyses at a frequency of one every 40 min for major dissolved species (Na+, K+, Mg2+, Ca2+, Cl−, SO42−, NO3−) through continuous sampling and filtration of the river water using automated ion chromatographs. The RL was deployed in the Orgeval Critical Zone Observatory, France for over a year of continuous analyses. Results show that the RL is able to capture long-term fine chemical variations with no drift and a precision significantly better than conventionally achieved in the laboratory (up to ±0.5 % for all major species for over a day and up to 1.7 % over 2 months). The RL is able to capture the abrupt changes in dissolved species concentrations during a typical 6-day rain event, as well as daily oscillations during a hydrological low-flow period of summer drought. Using the measured signals as a benchmark, we numerically assess the effects of a lower sampling frequency (typical of conventional field sampling campaigns) and of a lower precision (typically reached in the laboratory) on the hydrochemical signal. The high-resolution, high-precision measurements made possible by the RL open new perspectives for understanding critical zone hydro-bio-geochemical cycles. Finally, the RL also offers a solution for management agencies to monitor water quality in quasi-real time.