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Element concentrations in bed sediment of the Yellowstone River basin, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming — A retrospective analysis

December 1, 2000

Chemical data for bed sediment were analyzed as part of the U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment Program investigation of the Yellowstone River Basin in parts of Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming. The primary data set consisted of about 13,000 samples collected during 1974-79 for the National Uranium Resource Evaluation program. Data were available for 50 elements, although not all samples were analyzed for all elements. Element concentrations varied spatially and were associated with geologic settings or ecoregions. Factor analysis indicated three groups of associated elements: factor 1 elements were strongly correlated with basaltic rocks, factor 2 elements were strongly correlated with granitic rocks, and factor 3 elements were strongly correlated with carbonate rocks. Scores for factor 1 were highest for bed-sediment samples associated with volcanic rocks of Tertiary and Cretaceous age in the Absaroka volcanic field and crystalline rocks of Precambrian age in the Beartooth Mountains. Scores for factor 2 were highest for samples associated with volcanic rocks of Quaternary age on the Yellowstone Plateau, crystalline rocks of Precambrian age, and sedimentary rocks of Tertiary age in the Wyoming Basin ecoregion. Scores for factor 3 were highest in samples associated with sedimentary rocks of Paleozoic age and volcanic rocks of Cretaceous and Tertiary age. Descriptive statistics are presented to serve as a baseline for element concentrations in bed sediment associated with eight geologic settings or ecoregions in the study unit. Some of the concentrations of chromium, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc in bed-sediment samples from areas of crystalline rocks in the Beartooth Mountains and other formations in the western part of the study unit exceeded sediment-quality assessment values associated with toxic effects to aquatic life.