Watershed ‘chemical cocktails’: forming novel elemental combinations in Anthropocene fresh waters

Sujay S. Kaushal, Arthur J. Gold, Susana Bernal, Tammy A.Newcomer Johnson, Kelly Addy, Amy Burgin, Douglas A. Burns, Ashley A. Coble, Eran Hood, Yue Han Lu, Paul Mayer, Elizabeth C. Minor, Andrew W. Schroth, Philippe Vidon, Henry Wilson, Marguerite A. Xenopoulos, Thomas Doody, Joseph G. Galella, Phillip Goodling, Katherine HavilandShahan Haq, Barret Wessel, Kelsey L. Wood, Norbert Jaworski, Kenneth T. Belt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


In the Anthropocene, watershed chemical transport is increasingly dominated by novel combinations of elements, which are hydrologically linked together as ‘chemical cocktails.’ Chemical cocktails are novel because human activities greatly enhance elemental concentrations and their probability for biogeochemical interactions and shared transport along hydrologic flowpaths. A new chemical cocktail approach advances our ability to: trace contaminant mixtures in watersheds, develop chemical proxies with high-resolution sensor data, and manage multiple water quality problems. We explore the following questions: (1) Can we classify elemental transport in watersheds as chemical cocktails using a new approach? (2) What is the role of climate and land use in enhancing the formation and transport of chemical cocktails in watersheds? To address these questions, we first analyze trends in concentrations of carbon, nutrients, metals, and salts in fresh waters over 100 years. Next, we explore how climate and land use enhance the probability of formation of chemical cocktails of carbon, nutrients, metals, and salts. Ultimately, we classify transport of chemical cocktails based on solubility, mobility, reactivity, and dominant phases: (1) sieved chemical cocktails (e.g., particulate forms of nutrients, metals and organic matter); (2) filtered chemical cocktails (e.g., dissolved organic matter and associated metal complexes); (3) chromatographic chemical cocktails (e.g., ions eluted from soil exchange sites); and (4) reactive chemical cocktails (e.g., limiting nutrients and redox sensitive elements). Typically, contaminants are regulated and managed one element at a time, even though combinations of elements interact to influence many water quality problems such as toxicity to life, eutrophication, infrastructure corrosion, and water treatment. A chemical cocktail approach significantly expands evaluations of water quality signatures and impacts beyond single elements to mixtures. High-frequency sensor data (pH, specific conductance, turbidity, etc.) can serve as proxies for chemical cocktails and improve real-time analyses of water quality violations, identify regulatory needs, and track water quality recovery following storms and extreme climate events. Ultimately, a watershed chemical cocktail approach is necessary for effectively co-managing groups of contaminants and provides a more holistic approach for studying, monitoring, and managing water quality in the Anthropocene.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-305
Number of pages25
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Springer Nature Switzerland AG.


  • Acidification
  • Droughts
  • Eutrophication
  • Floods
  • Salinization
  • Storms


Dive into the research topics of 'Watershed ‘chemical cocktails’: forming novel elemental combinations in Anthropocene fresh waters'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this