Relations between sinkhole density and anthropogenic contaminants in selected carbonate aquifers in the eastern United States
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The relation between sinkhole density and water quality was investigated in seven selected carbonate aquifers in the eastern United States. Sinkhole density for these aquifers was grouped into high (>25 sinkholes/100 km2), medium (1–25 sinkholes/100 km2), or low (/100 km2) categories using a geographical information system that included four independent databases covering parts of Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. Field measurements and concentrations of major ions, nitrate, and selected pesticides in samples from 451 wells and 70 springs were included in the water-quality database. Data were collected as a part of the US Geological Survey (USGS) National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. Areas with high and medium sinkhole density had the greatest well depths and depths to water, the lowest concentrations of total dissolved solids and bicarbonate, the highest concentrations of dissolved oxygen, and the lowest partial pressure of CO2 compared to areas with low sinkhole density. These chemical indicators are consistent conceptually with a conduit-flow-dominated system in areas with a high density of sinkholes and a diffuse-flow-dominated system in areas with a low density of sinkholes. Higher cave density and spring discharge in Pennsylvania also support the concept that the high sinkhole density areas are dominated by conduit-flow systems. Concentrations of nitrate-N were significantly higher (p < 0.05) in areas with high and medium sinkhole density than in low sinkhole-density areas; when accounting for the variations in land use near the sampling sites, the high sinkhole-density area still had higher concentrations of nitrate-N than the low sinkhole-density area. Detection frequencies of atrazine, simazine, metolachlor, prometon, and the atrazine degradate deethylatrazine indicated a pattern similar to nitrate; highest pesticide detections were associated with high sinkhole-density areas. These patterns generally persisted when analyzing the detection frequency by land-