A Factor analysis of hidrochemical composition of Llobregat river basin

Otero Pérez, Neus
Tolosana Delgado, Raimon
Soler i Gil, Albert
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Hydrogeological research usually includes some statistical studies devised to elucidate mean background state, characterise relationships among different hydrochemical parameters, and show the influence of human activities. These goals are achieved either by means of a statistical approach or by mixing models between end-members. Compositional data analysis has proved to be effective with the first approach, but there is no commonly accepted solution to the end-member problem in a compositional framework. We present here a possible solution based on factor analysis of compositions illustrated with a case study. We find two factors on the compositional bi-plot fitting two non-centered orthogonal axes to the most representative variables. Each one of these axes defines a subcomposition, grouping those variables that lay nearest to it. With each subcomposition a log-contrast is computed and rewritten as an equilibrium equation. These two factors can be interpreted as the isometric log-ratio coordinates (ilr) of three hidden components, that can be plotted in a ternary diagram. These hidden components might be interpreted as end-members. We have analysed 14 molarities in 31 sampling stations all along the Llobregat River and its tributaries, with a monthly measure during two years. We have obtained a bi-plot with a 57% of explained total variance, from which we have extracted two factors: factor G, reflecting geological background enhanced by potash mining; and factor A, essentially controlled by urban and/or farming wastewater. Graphical representation of these two factors allows us to identify three extreme samples, corresponding to pristine waters, potash mining influence and urban sewage influence. To confirm this, we have available analysis of diffused and widespread point sources identified in the area: springs, potash mining lixiviates, sewage, and fertilisers. Each one of these sources shows a clear link with one of the extreme samples, except fertilisers due to the heterogeneity of their composition. This approach is a useful tool to distinguish end-members, and characterise them, an issue generally difficult to solve. It is worth note that the end-member composition cannot be fully estimated but only characterised through log-ratio relationships among components. Moreover, the influence of each endmember in a given sample must be evaluated in relative terms of the other samples. These limitations are intrinsic to the relative nature of compositional data ​
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