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Environmental problems - Chemical approaches

Ionic regulation in an alpine peatland in the Bogong High Plains, Victoria, Australia

Ewen Silvester
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Research Centre for Applied Alpine Ecology, Department of Environmental Management and Ecology (DEME), La Trobe University, Albury-Wodonga Campus, Vic. 3690, Australia. Email: e.silvester@latrobe.edu.au

Environmental Chemistry 6(5) 424-431 https://doi.org/10.1071/EN09062
Submitted: 21 May 2009  Accepted: 26 August 2009   Published: 22 October 2009

Environmental context. Australian alpine peatlands are thought to have an important role in maintaining water quality in the associated headwater streams. This study has confirmed that these peatlands can significantly modify stream water through a range of mechanisms, including: nutrient uptake, salt sequestering, and the export of organic carbon. While the significance of this chemical regulation to down stream processes is yet to be fully understood, it is clear that these systems have considerable potential to modify water composition.

Abstract. Heathy Spur 1 (HS-1) is an intact alpine peatland in the Bogong High Plains, Victoria, Australia, that serves as a reference system for understanding the impacts of historical land use practices (cattle grazing, water diversion) and wildfire. The major ion chemistry in the groundwater feed and drainage water at HS-1 was studied over seasonal timescales during ‘dry weather’ periods; conditions that allow a simple hydrological model to be used, where the groundwater is assumed to partition between evapotranspiration and stream discharge. With this model the acid neutralising capacity (ANC) of stream discharge can be understood in terms of evapotranspiration and proton uptake associated with nitrate and sulfate removal. Stream discharge ANC is strongly partitioned towards exported dissolved organic carbon, shifting the buffering intensity to lower pH compared to the groundwater. Given the extremely low alkalinity of the regional groundwater, these alpine peatlands likely have a critical role in increasing headwater stream buffering capacity.

Additional keywords: acid neutralising capacity, base cations, buffering intensity, nutrients.


Field work in the Alpine National Park has been assisted through on-ground support from Elaine Thomas, Kevin Cosgriff and Ron Riley (Parks Victoria – Alpine National Park) and project support from Marie Keatley (Parks Victoria Research Group). The financial support for this project provided by Parks Victoria is greatly appreciated (Project number: RPP 0506 P02b, RPP 0607 P06 and RPP 0708 P14; Permit numbers 10003222 and 10004635). Twenty-four hour field measurements and winter sampling was assisted by Martin Rigg, Phillip Newman and Nick May on different occasions.


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