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Open-File Report 2009—1124

The Regional Geochemistry of Soils and Willow in a Metamorphic Bedrock Terrain, Seward Peninsula, Alaska, 2005, and its Possible Relation to Moose

By L.P. Gough, P.J. Lamothe, R.F. Sanzolone, L.J. Drew, and J.A.K. Maier


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In 2005 willow leaves (all variants of Salix pulchra) and A-, B-, and C-horizon soils were sampled at 10 sites along a transect near the Quarry prospect and 11 sites along a transect near the Big Hurrah mine for the purpose of defining the spatial variability of elements and the regional geochemistry of willow and soil over Paleozoic metamorphic rocks potentially high in cadmium (Cd). Willow, a favorite browse of moose (Alces alces), has been shown by various investigators to bioaccumulate Cd. Moose in this region show clinical signs of tooth wear and breakage and are declining in population for unknown reasons. A trace element imbalance in their diet has been proposed as a possible cause for these observations. Cadmium, in high enough concentrations, is one dietary trace element that potentially could produce such symptoms.

We report both the summary statistics for elements in willow and soils and the results of an unbalanced, one-way, hierarchical analysis of variance (ANOVA) (general linear model, GLM), which was constructed to measure the geochemical variability in willow (and soil) at various distance scales across the Paleozoic geologic unit high in bioavailable Cd. All of the geochemical data are presented in the Appendices. The two locations are separated by approximately 80 kilometers (km); sites within a location are approximately 0.5 kilometers apart. Duplicate soil samples collected within a site were separated by 0.05 km or slightly less. Results of the GLM are element specific and range from having very little regional variability to having most of their variance at the top (greater than 80 km) level. For willow, a significant proportion of the total variance occurred at the "between locations" level for ash yield, barium (Ba), Cd, calcium (Ca), cobalt (Co), nickel (Ni), and zinc (Zn). For soils, concentrations of elements in all three soil horizons were similar in that most of the variability in the geochemical data occurred at the "between locations" and the "among sites at a location" GLM levels.

Most of the variation in concentrations of Cd in soils occurred among sites (separated by 0.5 km) at both locations across all soil horizons and not between the two locations. Cd distribution across the landscape may be due to variation in soil mineralogy, especially the amount of graphite in soil, which has been associated with Cd. Although samples were collected on the same geologic unit, the geochemistry of soils was demonstrated to be uniform with depth but highly variable between locations separated by 80 km. This exploratory study establishes the presence of elevated levels of Cd in willow growing over Paleozoic bedrock in the Seward Peninsula. Further work is needed to definitively link these high Cd levels in willow browse to the health of moose.

First posted August 17, 2009

For additional information contact:
Larry Gough
U.S. Geological Survey
National Center, MS 954
Reston, VA 20192-0002

Paul Lamothe
U.S. Geological Survey
Denver Federal Center, MS 964
Denver, CO 80225-0046

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Suggested citation:

Gough, L.P., Lamothe, P.J., Sanzolone, R.F., Drew, L.J., and Maier, J.A.K., 2009, The regional geochemistry of soils and willow in a metamorphic bedrock terrain, Seward Peninsula, Alaska, 2005, and its possible relation to moose: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2009-1124, 41 p.




Geology and Study Design

Methods of Sample Collection, Preparation, and Analysis

Statistical Methods

Results of Willow Analyses and GLM

Results of Soil Analyses and GLM

Relation Between Plant and Soil Geochemistry and Importance to Moose

Summary and Conclusions


References Cited

Appendix A

Appendix B

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