Towards an improved understanding of biogeochemical processes across surface-groundwater interactions in intermittent rivers and ephemeral streams

Lluís Gómez-Gener, Andre R. Siebers, María Isabel Arce, Shai Arnon, Susana Bernal, Rossano Bolpagni, Thibault Datry, Giulia Gionchetta, Hans Peter Grossart, Clara Mendoza-Lera, Vivien Pohl, Ute Risse-Buhl, Oleksandra Shumilova, Ourania Tzoraki, Daniel von Schiller, Alexander Weigand, Gabriele Weigelhofer, Dominik Zak, Annamaria Zoppini

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Surface-groundwater interactions in intermittent rivers and ephemeral streams (IRES), waterways which do not flow year-round, are spatially and temporally dynamic because of alternations between flowing, non-flowing and dry hydrological states. Interactions between surface and groundwater often create mixing zones with distinct redox gradients, potentially driving high rates of carbon and nutrient cycling. Yet a complete understanding of how underlying biogeochemical processes across surface-groundwater flowpaths in IRES differ among various hydrological states remains elusive. Here, we present a conceptual framework relating spatial and temporal hydrological variability in surface water-groundwater interactions to biogeochemical processing hotspots in IRES. We combine a review of theIRES biogeochemistry literature with concepts of IRES hydrogeomorphology to: (i) outline common distinctions among hydrological states in IRES; (ii) use these distinctions, together with considerations of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycles within IRES, to predict the relative potential for biogeochemical processing across different reach-scale processing zones (flowing water, fragmented pools, hyporheic zones, groundwater, and emerged sediments); and (iii) explore the potential spatial and temporal variability of carbon and nutrient biogeochemical processing across entire IRES networks. Our approach estimates the greatest reach-scale potential for biogeochemical processing when IRES reaches are fragmented into isolated surface water pools, and highlights the potential of relatively understudied processing zones, such as emerged sediments. Furthermore, biogeochemical processing in fluvial networks dominated by IRES is likely more temporally than spatially variable. We conclude that biogeochemical research in IRES would benefit from focusing on interactions between different nutrient cycles, surface-groundwater interactions in non-flowing states, and consideration of fluvial network architecture. Our conceptual framework outlines opportunities to advance studies and expand understanding of biogeochemistry in IRES.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103724
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2021


  • Carbon
  • Ecosystem ecology
  • Intermittency
  • Nitrogen
  • Non-perennial
  • Phosphorus
  • Stream network
  • Watercourses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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