Research at long‐term catchment monitoring sites has generated a great volume, variety, and velocity of data for analysis of stream water chemistry dynamics. To harness the potential of these big data and extract patterns that are indicative of underlying functional relationships, machine learning tools have advantages over traditional statistical methods, and are increasingly being applied for dimension reduction, feature extraction, and trend identification. Still, as examples of complex systems, catchments are characterized by multivariate factor interactions and equifinality that are not easily identified by most machine‐learning methods. Using dissolved organic carbon (DOC) dynamics as an illustration, we applied a new evolutionary algorithm (EA) to extract geologic, topographic, meteorologic, hydrologic, and land use attributes that were correlated to mean stream DOC concentration in forested catchments distributed across the continental United States. The EA reduced dimensionality of our attribute dataset to identify the combination of factors, and their specific value ranges, that interacted to drive membership in High or Low mean DOC clusters. High mean DOC concentrations were associated with two distinct geographic locations of variable climatic and vegetative conditions, indicating equifinality. Our findings underscore the importance of critical zone structure in mediating hydrological and biogeochemical processes to govern DOC dynamics at the catchment scale. This multi‐scale, pattern‐to‐process approach is being applied to refine hypotheses for process‐based modeling of DOC dynamics in forested headwater streams at catchment to site scales.more » « less
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- DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
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- Water Resources Research
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- National Science Foundation
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null (Ed.)Understanding and predicting catchment responses to a regional disturbance is difficult because catchments are spatially heterogeneous systems that exhibit unique moderating characteristics. Changes in precipitation composition in the Northeastern U.S. is one prominent example, where reduction in wet and dry deposition is hypothesized to have caused increased dissolved organic carbon (DOC) export from many northern hemisphere forested catchments; however, findings from different locations contradict each other. Using shifts in acid deposition as a test case, we illustrate an iterative “process and pattern” approach to investigate the role of catchment characteristics in modulating the steam DOC response. We use a novel dataset that integrates regional and catchment-scale atmospheric deposition data, catchment characteristics and co-located stream Q and stream chemistry data. We use these data to investigate opportunities and limitations of a pattern-to-process approach where we explore regional patterns of reduced acid deposition, catchment characteristics and stream DOC response and specific soil processes at select locations. For pattern investigation, we quantify long-term trends of flow-adjusted DOC concentrations in stream water, along with wet deposition trends in sulfate, for USGS headwater catchments using Seasonal Kendall tests and then compare trend results to catchment attributes. Our investigation of climatic, topographic, and hydrologic catchment attributes vs. directionality of DOC trends suggests soil depth and catchment connectivity as possible modulating factors for DOC concentrations. This informed our process-to-pattern investigation, in which we experimentally simulated increased and decreased acid deposition on soil cores from catchments of contrasting long-term DOC response [Sleepers River Research Watershed (SRRW) for long-term increases in DOC and the Susquehanna Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory (SSHCZO) for long-term decreases in DOC]. SRRW soils generally released more DOC than SSHCZO soils and losses into recovery solutions were higher. Scanning electron microscope imaging indicates a significant DOC contribution from destabilizing soil aggregates mostly from hydrologically disconnected landscape positions. Results from this work illustrate the value of an iterative process and pattern approach to understand catchment-scale response to regional disturbance and suggest opportunities for further investigations.more » « less
Uncertainty in the estimation of hydrologic export of solutes has never been fully evaluated at the scale of a small‐watershed ecosystem. We used data from the Gomadansan Experimental Forest, Japan, Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, USA, and Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, USA, to evaluate many sources of uncertainty, including the precision and accuracy of measurements, selection of models, and spatial and temporal variation. Uncertainty in the analysis of stream chemistry samples was generally small but could be large in relative terms for solutes near detection limits, as is common for ammonium and phosphate in forested catchments. Instantaneous flow deviated from the theoretical curve relating height to discharge by up to 10% at Hubbard Brook, but the resulting corrections to the theoretical curve generally amounted to <0.5% of annual flows. Calibrations were limited to low flows; uncertainties at high flows were not evaluated because of the difficulties in performing calibrations during events. However, high flows likely contribute more uncertainty to annual flows because of the greater volume of water that is exported during these events. Uncertainty in catchment area was as much as 5%, based on a comparison of digital elevation maps with ground surveys. Three different interpolation methods are used at the three sites to combine periodic chemistry samples with streamflow to calculate fluxes. The three methods differed by <5% in annual export calculations for calcium, but up to 12% for nitrate exports, when applied to a stream at Hubbard Brook for 1997–2008; nitrate has higher weekly variation at this site. Natural variation was larger than most other sources of uncertainty. Specifically, coefficients of variation across streams or across years, within site, for runoff and weighted annual concentrations of calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, sulphate, chloride, and silicate ranged from 5 to 50% and were even higher for nitrate. Uncertainty analysis can be used to guide efforts to improve confidence in estimated stream fluxes and also to optimize design of monitoring programmes. © 2014 The Authors.
Hydrological Processespublished John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Stream and shallow groundwater responses to rainfall are characterized by high spatial variability, but hydrologic response variability across small, agro‐forested sub‐catchments remains poorly understood. Conceivably, improved understanding in this regard will result in agricultural practices that more effectively limit nutrient runoff, erosion, and pollutant transport. Terrestrial hydrologic response approaches can provide valuable information on stream‐aquifer connectivity in these mixed‐use watersheds. A study was implemented, including eight stream and co‐located shallow groundwater monitoring sites, in a small sub‐catchment of the Chesapeake Bay watershed in the Northeast, USA to advance this ongoing need. During the study period, 100 precipitation‐receiving days (i.e., 24‐hour periods, midnight to midnight) were observed. On average, the groundwater table responded more to precipitation than stream stage (level change of 0.03 vs. 0.01 m and rainfall‐normalized level change estimate of 3.81 vs. 3.37). Median stream stage responses, groundwater table responses, and response ratios were significantly different between sub‐catchments (
n= 8; p< 0.001). Study area average precipitation thresholds for runoff and shallow groundwater flow were 2.8 and 0.6 cm, respectively. Individual sub‐catchment thresholds ranged from 0.5 to 2.8 cm for runoff and 0.2 to 1.3 cm for shallow groundwater flow. Normalized response lag times between the stream and shallow groundwater ranged from −0.50 to 3.90 s·cm−1, indicating that stormflow in one stream section was regulated by groundwater flow during the period of study. The observed differences in hydrologic responses to precipitation advance future modelling efforts by providing examples of how terrestrial groundwater response methods can be used to investigate sub‐catchment spatial variability in stream‐aquifer gradients with co‐located shallow groundwater and stream stage data. Additionally, results demonstrate asynchronous stream and shallow groundwater responses on precipitation‐receiving days, which may hold important implications for modelling hydrologic and biogeochemical fate and transport processes in small, agro‐forested catchments.
Abstract. Solute concentrations in stream water vary with discharge in patterns that record complex feedbacks between hydrologic and biogeochemical processes. In a comparison of three shale-underlain headwater catchments located in Pennsylvania, USA (the forested Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory), and Wales, UK (the peatland-dominated Upper Hafren and forest-dominated Upper Hore catchments in the Plynlimon forest), dissimilar concentration–discharge (C–Q) behaviors are best explained by contrasting landscape distributions of soil solution chemistry – especially dissolved organic carbon (DOC) – that have been established by patterns of vegetation and soil organic matter (SOM). Specifically, elements that are concentrated in organic-rich soils due to biotic cycling (Mn, Ca, K) or that form strong complexes with DOC (Fe, Al) are spatially heterogeneous in pore waters because organic matter is heterogeneously distributed across the catchments. These solutes exhibit non-chemostatic behavior in the streams, and solute concentrations either decrease (Shale Hills) or increase (Plynlimon) with increasing discharge. In contrast, solutes that are concentrated in soil minerals and form only weak complexes with DOC (Na, Mg, Si) are spatially homogeneous in pore waters across each catchment. These solutes are chemostatic in that their stream concentrations vary little with stream discharge, likely because these solutes are released quickly from exchange sites in the soils during rainfall events. Furthermore, concentration–discharge relationships of non-chemostatic solutes changed following tree harvest in the Upper Hore catchment in Plynlimon, while no changes were observed for chemostatic solutes, underscoring the role of vegetation in regulating the concentrations of certain elements in the stream. These results indicate that differences in the hydrologic connectivity of organic-rich soils to the stream drive differences in concentration behavior between catchments. As such, in catchments where SOM is dominantly in lowlands (e.g., Shale Hills), we infer that non-chemostatic elements associated with organic matter are released to the stream early during rainfall events, whereas in catchments where SOM is dominantly in uplands (e.g., Plynlimon), these non-chemostatic elements are released later during rainfall events. The distribution of SOM across the landscape is thus a key component for predictive models of solute transport in headwater catchments.
In lakes, the rates of gross primary production (GPP), ecosystem respiration (R), and net ecosystem production (NEP) are often controlled by resource availability. Herein, we explore how catchment vs. within lake predictors of metabolism compare using data from 16 lakes spanning 39°N to 64°N, a range of inflowing streams, and trophic status. For each lake, we combined stream loads of dissolved organic carbon (DOC), total nitrogen (TN), and total phosphorus (TP) with lake DOC, TN, and TP concentrations and high frequency
in situmonitoring of dissolved oxygen. We found that stream load stoichiometry indicated lake stoichiometry for C : N and C : P ( r2 = 0.74 and r2 = 0.84, respectively), but not for N : P ( r2 = 0.04). As we found a strong positive correlation between TN and TP, we only used TP in our statistical models. For the catchment model, GPP and R were best predicted by DOC load, TP load, and load N : P ( R2 = 0.85 and R2 = 0.82, respectively). For the lake model, GPP and R were best predicted by TP concentrations ( R2 = 0.86 and R2 = 0.67, respectively). The inclusion of N : P in the catchment model, but not the lake model, suggests that both N and P regulate metabolism and that organisms may be responding more strongly to catchment inputs than lake resources. Our models predicted NEP poorly, though it is unclear why. Overall, our work stresses the importance of characterizing lake catchment loads to predict metabolic rates, a result that may be particularly important in catchments experiencing changing hydrologic regimes related to global environmental change.