Predicting redox conditions in groundwater at a national scale using random forest classification

Environmental Science and Technology
By: , and 



Redox conditions in groundwater may markedly affect the fate and transport of nutrients, volatile organic compounds, and trace metals, with significant implications for human health. While many local assessments of redox conditions have been made, the spatial variability of redox reaction rates makes the determination of redox conditions at regional or national scales problematic. In this study, redox conditions in groundwater were predicted for the contiguous United States using random forest classification by relating measured water quality data from over 30,000 wells to natural and anthropogenic factors. The model correctly predicted the oxic/suboxic classification for 78 and 79% of the samples in the out-of-bag and hold-out data sets, respectively. Variables describing geology, hydrology, soil properties, and hydrologic position were among the most important factors affecting the likelihood of oxic conditions in groundwater. Important model variables tended to relate to aquifer recharge, groundwater travel time, or prevalence of electron donors, which are key drivers of redox conditions in groundwater. Partial dependence plots suggested that the likelihood of oxic conditions in groundwater decreased sharply as streams were approached and gradually as the depth below the water table increased. The probability of oxic groundwater increased as base flow index values increased, likely due to the prevalence of well-drained soils and geologic materials in high base flow index areas. The likelihood of oxic conditions increased as topographic wetness index (TWI) values decreased. High topographic wetness index values occur in areas with a propensity for standing water and overland flow, conditions that limit the delivery of dissolved oxygen to groundwater by recharge; higher TWI values also tend to occur in discharge areas, which may contain groundwater with long travel times. A second model was developed to predict the probability of elevated manganese (Mn) concentrations in groundwater (i.e., ≥50 μg/L). The Mn model relied on many of the same variables as the oxic/suboxic model and may be used to identify areas where Mn-reducing conditions occur and where there is an increased risk to domestic water supplies due to high Mn concentrations. Model predictions of redox conditions in groundwater produced in this study may help identify regions of the country with elevated groundwater vulnerability and stream vulnerability to groundwater-derived contaminants.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Predicting redox conditions in groundwater at a national scale using random forest classification
Series title Environmental Science and Technology
DOI 10.1021/acs.est.3c07576
Volume 58
Issue 11
Year Published 2024
Language English
Publisher American Chemical Society
Contributing office(s) California Water Science Center, Oregon Water Science Center
Description 14 p.
First page 5079
Last page 5092
Country United States
Other Geospatial contiguous United States
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