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Title: Increased {DOC} concentrations and earlier stream flow generation in response to warming in a high elevation mountain watershed in Colorado
High elevation mountain watersheds are undergoing rapid warming and declining snow fractions worldwide, causing earlier and quicker snowmelt. Understanding how this hydrologic shift affects subsurface flow paths, biogeochemical reactions, and solute export has been challenging due to the entanglement of hydrological and biogeochemical processes. Coal Creek, a high-elevation catchment (2,700 3,700 m, 53 km2) in Colorado, is experiencing a higher rate of warming than surrounding low-lying areas. This warming corresponds with dynamic and increased responses from biogenic solutes and dissolved organic carbon (DOC), whereas the behavior of geogenic solutes and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) has remained relatively unchanged. DOC has experienced the largest concentration increase (>3x), with annual average flow weighted concentrations positively correlated to average annual temperature. This suggests temperature is the main driver of increasing DOC levels. Although DOC and DIC response to warming is influenced by many drivers, the relative contribution of each remains unknown. DOC and DIC were analyzed to incorporate both carbon component products of soil respiration (DOC and CO2) and to represent high solute concentrations transported by shallow (DOC) versus deep (DIC) subsurface flow. The contrasting behavior of these carbon solutes indicates climate change and warming are driving changes in organic matter decomposition and more » soil respiration. Modeling results from the process-based model HBV-BioRT show increased temperatures cause earlier snowmelt and streamflow generation and lower peak discharge. As stream flow generation occurs earlier, so do DOC flushing and DIC dilution events. Additionally, post-snowmelt periods show greater DOC production and concentrations under warming scenarios. Results indicated increased production of DOC in post-snowmelt periods. DOC is then flushed out by earlier snowmelt partitioned through the shallow soil zone. Most process-based studies lack a watershed-scale understanding of carbon transformation and flow path alterations. This work demonstrates complex hydrologic and biogeochemical coupling at the watershed scale to illustrate how water flow paths and chemistry are responding to a changing climate in highelevation mountain watersheds. « less
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American Geophysical Union annual meeting
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National Science Foundation
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