Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Civil Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. James F. Fox


This dissertation investigated the physical and biogeochemical processes affecting the source, fate, and transport of sediment, carbon, and nitrogen within a highly-coupled fluviokarst system. Elemental and isotopic datasets were collected at surface and subsurface locations for both dissolved and particulate contaminant phases, new methodology regarding data collection was presented to the karst research community, an in-cave sediment transport model coupling physical transport with elemental and isotopic mass balances of carbon and nitrogen was formulated, pathway and process control on nitrate leaching from agricultural karst watersheds was assessed, and nitrate mobilization and fractionation were modeled using high frequency storm sampling and long-term low-flow sampling. Data and modeling results indicate that phreatic karst conduits are transport-limited during hydrologic events and experience subsurface deposition of labile, storm-injected sediment which is subsequently decomposed by heterotrophic bacteria. An estimated 30% of the organic carbon associated with sediment is decomposed during transport in the subsurface karst. Concentrations of nitrate in subsurface waters are consistently 50% greater than surface inputs suggesting an additional source of subsurface nitrate. Further modeling of nitrate leaching indicates that quick-flow water sources dilute nitrate concentrations and slow-flow (epikarst and phreatic) sources account for approximately 90% of downstream nitrate delivery. Field sampling of extreme events highlights the physical transport and delayed release of high nitrate concentrations by intermediate karst pathways, which is likely associated with a transition from epikarst to soil drainage during storm recession. Modeling of sediment carbon and nitrogen within the karst SFGL supports the idea that the cave sediment bed experiences hot spots and hot moments of biogeochemical activity. Sediment nitrogen tracing data show a significant increase in δ15NSed at the spring outlet relative to karst inputs indicating the potential for isotope fractionation effects during dissolved N uptake by cave biota. Dissolved nitrogen stable isotopic composition shows a significant downstream decrease in δ15NNO3 within the conduit, likely associated with nitrification. Data and modeling results of sediment, carbon, and nitrogen emphasize the role of multiple pathways, turbulent transport, and in-conduit transformations in controlling contaminant flux from karst watersheds.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)