Date of Award

Spring 2015

Degree Type



Geological Engineering

First Advisor

Christopher Gammons

Second Advisor

Glenn Shaw

Third Advisor

Steve Parker


Several teams of researchers at multiple universities are currently measuring annual and seasonal fluxes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases (nitrous oxide and methane) in riparian wetlands and upland forests in the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest (TCEF), a subalpine watershed in the Little Belt Mountains, Montana. In the current thesis, the author characterized the geochemistry and stable carbon isotope composition of shallow groundwater, soil water, and stream water in upper Stringer Creek, near sites that are being investigated for gas chemistry and microbial studies. It was hypothesized that if methanogenesis were a dominant process in the riparian wetlands of upper Stringer Creek, then this should impart a characteristic signal in the measured stable isotopic composition of dissolved inorganic carbon in shallow groundwater.

For the most part, the major solute composition of shallow groundwater in upper Stringer Creek was similar to that of the stream. However, several wells completed in wetland soil had highly elevated concentrations of Fe2+ and Mn2+ which were absent in the well-oxygenated surface water. Use of sediment pore-water samplers (peepers) demonstrated a rapid increase in Fe2+ and Mn2+ with depth, most feasibly explained by microbial reduction of Fe- and Mn-oxide minerals. In general, the pH of shallow groundwater was lower than that of the stream. Since concentrations of CO2 in the groundwater samples were consistently greater than atmospheric pCO2, exchange of CO2 gas across the stream/air interface occurred in one direction, from stream to air. Evasion of CO2 partly explains the higher pH values in the stream. Microbial processes involving breakdown of organic carbon, including aerobic respiration, anaerobic respiration, and methanogenesis, explain the occurrence of excess CO2 in the groundwater. In general, the isotopic composition of total dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) decreased with increasing DIC concentration, consistent with aerobic and/or anaerobic respiration being the dominant metabolic process in shallow groundwater. However, a minority of wells contained high DIC concentrations that were anomalously heavy in u13C, and these same wells had elevated concentrations of dissolved methane. It is concluded that the wells with isotopically-heavier DIC have likely been influenced by acetoclastic methanogenesis. Results from shallow groundwater wells and one of the peeper samplers suggest a possible link between methanogenesis and bacterial iron reduction.


A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Science in Geoscience: Hydrogeology Option