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Title: Megafire affects stream sediment flux and dissolved organic matter reactivity, but land use dominates nutrient dynamics in semiarid watersheds
Climate change is causing larger wildfires and more extreme precipitation events in many regions. As these ecological disturbances increasingly coincide, they alter lateral fluxes of sediment, organic matter, and nutrients. Here, we report the stream chemistry response of watersheds in a semiarid region of Utah (USA) that were affected by a megafire followed by an extreme precipitation event in October 2018. We analyzed daily to hourly water samples at 10 stream locations from before the storm event until three weeks after its conclusion for suspended sediment, solute and nutrient concentrations, water isotopes, and dissolved organic matter concentration, optical properties, and reactivity. The megafire caused a ~2,000-fold increase in sediment flux and a ~6,000-fold increase in particulate carbon and nitrogen flux over the course of the storm. Unexpectedly, dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration was 2.1-fold higher in burned watersheds, despite the decreased organic matter from the fire. DOC from burned watersheds was 1.3-fold more biodegradable and 2.0-fold more photodegradable than in unburned watersheds based on 28-day dark and light incubations. Regardless of burn status, nutrient concentrations were higher in watersheds with greater urban and agricultural land use. Likewise, human land use had a greater effect than megafire on apparent hydrological residence more » time, with rapid stormwater signals in urban and agricultural areas but a gradual stormwater pulse in areas without direct human influence. These findings highlight how megafires and intense rainfall increase short-term particulate flux and alter organic matter concentration and characteristics. However, in contrast with previous research, which has largely focused on burned-unburned comparisons in pristine watersheds, we found that direct human influence exerted a primary control on nutrient status. Reducing anthropogenic nutrient sources could therefore increase socioecological resilience of surface water networks to changing wildfire regimes. « less
Authors:
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Editors:
Martínez-Yrízar, Angelina
Award ID(s):
2011439
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10341204
Journal Name:
PLOS ONE
Volume:
16
Issue:
9
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
e0257733
ISSN:
1932-6203
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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