Discharging 680 km3 of freshwater annually to the Northern Gulf of Mexico (NGOM), the Mississippi-Atchafalaya River System (MARS) plays a significant role in transporting major and trace elements to the ocean. In this study, we analyzed total recoverable concentrations of thirty-one metals from water samples collected at five locations along the MARS during 2013-2016 to quantify their seasonal mass exports. The Atchafalaya River flows through a large swamp floodplain, allowing us to also test the hypothesis that floodplains function as a sink for metals. We found that the seven major elements (Ca, Na, Mg, Si, K, Al, and Fe) constituted 99% of the total annual mass load of metals (7.38 × 107 tons) from the MARS. Higher concentrations of Al, Ba, B, Ca, Fe, Mg, Mn, Ag, and Ti were found in the Mississippi River, while significantly higher Si and Na concentrations were found in the Atchafalaya River. Significant relationships were found between daily discharge and daily loads of Ba, Ca, Fe, K, Sr, and Ti in both rivers, while significant relationships were also found for Al, Mg, Mn, V, and Zn in the Atchafalaya River and B in the Mississippi River. Overall, the Mississippi River contributed 64-76% of the total annual loading of metals from the MARS to the NGOM. Daily loads of Al, Ba, B, Fe, Li, Mn, P, K, Si, Ag, Ti, V, and Zn regularly decreased upstream to downstream in the Atchafalaya River, partially accepting the initial hypothesis on metals transport in river floodplains.
Keywords: Atchafalaya river; Floodplain; Geochemistry; Mississippi river; Riverine metals; Trace elements.
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