A rock-glacier – pond system (NW Italian Alps): Soil and sediment properties, geochemistry, and trace-metal bioavailability

N.Colombo ab C.Ferronato cd L. Vittori Antisari d L.Marziali e F.Salerno e S. Fratianni b M. E. D'Amico a A. Ribolini f D. Godone g S. Sartini h L. Paro i U. Morra di Cella j M. Freppaz a, 2020, A rock-glacier – pond system (NW Italian Alps): Soil and sediment properties, geochemistry, and trace-metal bioavailability, Catena (Cremling.) 194 (2020). doi_10.1016/j.catena.2020.104700,
URL: http://www.cnr.it/prodotto/i/423855

Rock-glacier sediment transfer and ice melting can impact surface waters located downstream. However, there is a lack of knowledge on the influence of rock-glacier dynamics on the geochemical, hydrochemical, and ecological characteristics of adjacent impounded surface waters. In the Col d'Olen area (Long-Term Ecological Research site, NW Italian Alps), an intact rock glacier terminates into a pond and solute-enriched waters originating from the rock glacier flow into the pond through a subsurface hydrological window. In this study, we performed geophysical and ground surface temperature measurements. Moreover, we sampled soils and sediments in different compartments of the investigated rock-glacier - pond system and we further sampled benthic invertebrates in the pond. Cold ground thermal regime, ground-ice presence, and coarse debris cover on the rock glacier together with its lithology (serpentinites) influence the rock-glacier geochemistry and ecology with respect to surrounding areas. Pond geochemistry is affected by transfer of trace-metal-enriched fine-grained debris and meltwaters from the rock glacier. Enhanced bioavailability of serpentinite-associated trace metals was proved, with concentrations of Ni and Cr in benthic invertebrates up to 384 and 110 mg kg-1 d.w., respectively, potentially exerting toxic effects on pond biota. The advancing movement of the rock glacier not only has delivered sediments to the pond, but it has progressively filled the valley depression where the pond is located, creating a dam that could have modified the level of impounded water. This process likely constituted a sediment trap in which serpentinitic rock-glacier sediments could be deposited at the pond bottom, with related geochemical and ecological implications. This study illustrates the importance of rock glaciers in influencing the characteristics of downstream freshwater bodies and highlights the need to improve our knowledge about climate-change-related impacts of rock-glacier dynamics on alpine headwaters.

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