Using Fly Ash as a Marker to Quantify Culturally-Accelerated Sediment Accumulation in Playa Wetlands

Zhenghong Tang, Yue Gu, Jeff Drahota, Ted Lagrange, Andy Bishop, Mark S. Kuzila

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Wetlands in the Rainwater Basin in Nebraska are vulnerable to sediment accumulation from the surrounding watershed. Sediment accumulation has a negative impact on wetland quality by decreasing the depth and volume of water stored, and the plant community species composition and density growing in the wetland. The objective of this study was to determine the amount of sediment that has accumulated in five selected wetlands in the Rainwater Basin in Nebraska. Soil cores were taken at five or six locations along transects across each wetland. This study used the fly ash, which is generated by coal-burning locomotives that were present generally in the late 1800s and early 1900s, as a marker to quantify the sediment deposition rates. The cores were divided into 5 cm sections and the soils were analyzed using a fly ash extraction and identification technique. Results indicate that the average depth of sediment ranged from 23.00 to 38.00 cm. The annual average depth of sediment accumulation ranged from 0.18 cm/yr to 0.29 cm/yr. The annual sediment accumulation rate from both wind erosion and water erosion in these five sampling wetlands was between 1.946 and 3.225 kg/m2/yr. The results of this research can be used to develop restoration plans for wetlands. The fly ash testing technology can also be applied to other areas with the railroads across the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1643-1655
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Fly ash
  • Playa wetland
  • Rainwater Basin in Nebraska
  • Sediment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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