The shrinkage of inland, alkaline, and saline lakes has caused the elevation of arsenic and uranium concentrations in lake water. However, the chemical reactions associated with these enrichments remain unclear. We conducted a five-year study of the water chemistry of Orog Lake (Mongolia) and the chemical and spectroscopic characteristics of the sediment to determine the geochemical behavior of arsenic and uranium during evaporation. The arsenic and uranium concentrations increased as evaporation caused the lake to shrink. The maximum concentrations of arsenic and uranium exceeded 200 µg/L and 600 µg/L, respectively, when the lake area was the smallest. Comparisons of the monitoring results with predictions of geochemical modeling suggested that some arsenic was removed from the lake water under highly desiccated conditions. Sequential extraction and X-ray absorption near-edge structure analyses showed that ferrihydrite can take up As(V). The accumulation of uranium could be reproduced by considering only evaporation. The conservative behavior of uranium can be explained by the low affinity of U(VI) for carbonate and ferrihydrite at pH > 9 and high dissolved inorganic carbon concentrations. The ubiquitous formation of extremely soluble U-bearing salts after the complete desiccation of inland lakes may thus become a serious threat to limnetic ecosystems.
Keywords: Arsenic; Geochemical reaction modeling; Orog Lake; Saline alkaline lake; Uranium.
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