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Hyporheic zone reaction rates are highest just below the sediment-water interface, in a shallow region called the benthic biolayer. Vertical variability of hyporheic reaction rates leads to unexpected reaction kinetics for stream-borne solutes, compared to classical model predictions. We show that deeper, low-reactivity locations within the hyporheic zone retain solutes for extended periods, which delays reactions and causes solutes to persist at higher concentrations in the stream reach than would be predicted by classical approaches. These behaviors are captured by an upscaled model that reveals the fundamental physical and chemical processes in the hyporheic zone. We show how time scales of transport and reaction within the biolayer control solute retention and transformation at the stream scale, and we demonstrate that accurate assessment of stream-scale reactivity requires methods that integrate over all travel times.

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This document was originally published in Geophysical Research Letters by Wiley on behalf of the American Geophysical Union. Copyright restrictions may apply.