Missouri Water Science Center

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Big Spring

Big Spring is the largest spring in Missouri and one of the largest springs in the Nation.

Big Spring is the largest spring in Missouri and one of the largest springs in the Nation with an average annual mean discharge of 447 cubic feet per second (289,000 gallons per day; Hauck and Nagel, 2001). The spring is located 20 miles east of the area of intense lead-zinc exploration and is within the Ozark National Scenic Riverways boundaries. Historical measurements of the discharge rate of Big Spring have been conducted by continuously recording stage (water level) measurements in the spring branch and calibrating the stage to discharge measurements made manually. Stage measurements are not accurate during periods of high flow rates above 1,000 cubic feet per second because backwater from the Current River raises the level of water in the spring branch.

To more accurately measure the flow of Big Spring, the spring was instrumented with a radar unit that directly measures water flow in the spring branch during all flow conditions. An automatic sampler also has been installed in the spring branch to collect water samples to determine suspended sediment and dye content during dye-trace investigations. An automatic data recorder has been installed to monitor specific conductance and temperature of the water. Water samples are collected monthly and analyzed for major ions, trace metals, and nutrients to assess water quality and carbonate rock dissolution rates. 

Samples have been collected from Big Spring at low base flow and during a storm event and from Huff Spring and 4 water-supply wells in Big Spring recharge area, and analyzed for chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) compounds, oxygen and deuterium isotopes, total helium, tritium, helium-3, carbon-14, and dissolved gases (nitrogen, argon, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and methane). These analyses will help determine the young (post-1940) and old (pre-1940) flow fractions and ground-water ages. The man-made CFC compounds are used to date the water relative to known atmospheric concentrations of these compounds. Tritium and helium-3 will be used to date the water relative to known atmospheric concentrations of nuclear bomb by-products. Total helium concentrations will be used to assess the possibility of terragenic helium accumulation in the ground water from a uranium/thorium source or extremely long ground-water travel times in the rock matrix. The dissolved gases data will be used to determine the recharge temperature of the ground water. Carbon-14 concentrations will indicate the degree of mixing of younger and older water.

For more information contact:

David C. Smith, Hydrologist

U.S. Geological Survey

Missouri Water Science Center

1400 Independence Rd., MS 100

Rolla, MO 65401

Telephone: (573) 308-3675

Fax:(573) 308-3645

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