Unusually heavy stable Mo isotope signatures of the Ottawa River: Causes and implications for global riverine Mo fluxes


The accurate use of Mo isotope mass balance modelling of ancient oceans relies on the assumption that the δ98Mo of modern riverine inputs represents a reasonable estimate of the past. A growing number of studies of global rivers have demonstrated significant variation in δ98Mo from the bedrock sources of Mo. The Ottawa River, Canada, was previously identified as having an anomalously heavy Mo isotope composition, with a δ98Mo signature close to seawater (2.3‰), for a seemingly pristine natural river. To further explore this unusual signature, we collected and filtered 29 water samples from the Ottawa River, tributaries, and small lakes, and analysed them for Mo isotopes as well as major and trace elements. Here, we fully document heavy δ98Mo signatures throughout the Ottawa River and its absence in surrounding areas of the wider Ottawa River basin (ORB). Our results reveal a progressive upstream increase in both Mo concentration and δ98Mo signatures in the Ottawa River towards values even heavier than seawater, up to 3.13‰ – the heaviest Mo isotopic signature of river water measured to date. In contrast, the tributaries and lakes display far lighter and more consistent δ98Mo signatures within the range previously found in other rivers. Weathering of an isotopically heavy bedrock source, fractionation during weathering and retention of light isotopes in soils have all been proposed as sources of heavy δ98Mo in rivers; however, none of these mechanisms can satisfactorily explain our new observations. Colloidal and particulate processes that remove elements downstream, as inferred from some trace element proxies, also cannot explain the decreasing δ98Mo, since the preferential removal of light Mo isotopes is predicted from these processes. Similarly, the downstream trends show no apparent relationships with constructed dams or known potential industrial sources. Therefore, our findings from the Ottawa River are best explained as the dilution of a yet unidentified point source of heavy Mo upstream of sampling, or a significant permanent sink for light isotopes existing only in the upper reaches of the catchment. In both cases, anthropogenic contribution from a large mining district in the headwaters of the river must be considered and should be explored further. Fractionation of Mo in waste rock storage facilities have been previously identified and may provide an unnatural sink for isotopically light Mo through the Rayleigh-type fractionation of dissolved Mo on oxyhydr(oxide) mineral surfaces. The implied anthropogenic alteration of the natural Mo cycle highlights the significant and wide-reaching effects of unnatural point sources of Mo on the cumulative δ98Mo signatures of the catchment, and emphasises the necessity for detailed geochemical screening of anomalous river water isotope signatures before natural isotope compositions are inferred

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