skip to main content


Title: Toward catchment hydro‐biogeochemical theories
Abstract

Headwater catchments are the fundamental units that connect the land to the ocean. Hydrological flow and biogeochemical processes are intricately coupled, yet their respective sciences have progressed without much integration. Reaction kinetic theories that prescribe rate dependence on environmental variables (e.g., temperature and water content) have advanced substantially, mostly in well‐mixed reactors, columns, and warming experiments without considering the characteristics of hydrological flow at the catchment scale. These theories have shown significant divergence from observations in natural systems. On the other hand, hydrological theories, including transit time theory, have progressed substantially yet have not been incorporated into understanding reactions at the catchment scale. Here we advocate for the development of integrated hydro‐biogeochemical theories across gradients of climate, vegetation, and geology conditions. The lack of such theories presents barriers for understanding mechanisms and forecasting the future of the Critical Zone under human‐ and climate‐induced perturbations. Although integration has started and co‐located measurements are well under way, tremendous challenges remain. In particular, even in this era of “big data,” we are still limited by data and will need to (1) intensify measurements beyond river channels and characterize the vertical connectivity and broadly the shallow and deep subsurface; (2) expand to older water dating beyond the time scales reflected in stable water isotopes; (3) combine the use of reactive solutes, nonreactive tracers, and isotopes; and (4) augment measurements in environments that are undergoing rapid changes. To develop integrated theories, it is essential to (1) engage models at all stages to develop model‐informed data collection strategies and to maximize data usage; (2) adopt a “simple but not simplistic,” or fit‐for‐purpose approach to include essential processes in process‐based models; (3) blend the use of process‐based and data‐driven models in the framework of “theory‐guided data science.” Within the framework of hypothesis testing, model‐data fusion can advance integrated theories that mechanistically link catchments' internal structures and external drivers to their functioning. It can not only advance the field of hydro‐biogeochemistry, but also enable hind‐ and fore‐casting and serve the society at large. Broadly, future education will need to cultivate thinkers at the intersections of traditional disciplines with hollistic approaches for understanding interacting processes in complex earth systems.

This article is categorized under:

Engineering Water > Methods

 
more » « less
Award ID(s):
1911960 1331726 1239285 2026874
NSF-PAR ID:
10448355
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
WIREs Water
Volume:
8
Issue:
1
ISSN:
2049-1948
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Processes that drive variability in catchment solute sourcing, transformation, and transport can be investigated using concentration–discharge (C–Q) relationships. These relationships reflect catchment and in‐stream processes operating across nested temporal scales, incorporating both short and long‐term patterns. Scientists can therefore leverage catchment‐scale C–Q datasets to identify and distinguish among the underlying meteorological, biological, and geological processes that drive solute export patterns from catchments and influence the shape of their respective C–Q relationships. We have synthesized current knowledge regarding the influence of biological, geological, and meteorological processes on C–Q patterns for various solute types across diel to decadal time scales. We identify cross‐scale linkages and tools researchers can use to explore these interactions across time scales. Finally, we identify knowledge gaps in our understanding of C–Q temporal dynamics as reflections of catchment and in‐stream processes. We also lay the foundation for developing an integrated approach to investigate cross‐scale linkages in the temporal dynamics of C–Q relationships, reflecting catchment biogeochemical processes and the effects of environmental change on water quality.

    This article is categorized under:

    Science of Water > Hydrological Processes

    Science of Water > Water Quality

    Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change

     
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Long‐term experimental watershed studies have significantly influenced our global understanding of hydrological processes. The discovery and characterization of how stream water quantity and quality respond to a changing environment (e.g. land‐use change, acidic deposition) has only been possible due to the establishment of catchments devoted to long‐term study. One such catchment is the Fernow Experimental Forest (FEF) located in the headwaters of the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia, a region that provides essential freshwater ecosystem services to eastern and mid‐western United States communities. Established in 1934, the FEF is among the earliest experimental watershed studies in the Eastern United States that continues to address emergent challenges to forest ecosystems, including climate change and other threats to forest health. This data note describes available data and presents some findings from more than 50 years of hydrologic research at the FEF. During the first few decades, research at the FEF focused on the relationship between forest management and hydrological processes—especially those related to the overall water balance. Later, research included the examination of interactions between hydrology and soil erosion, biogeochemistry, N‐saturation, and acid deposition. Hydro‐climatologic and water quality datasets from long‐term measurements and data from short‐duration studies are publicly available to provide new insights and foster collaborations that will continue to advance our understanding of hydrology in forested headwater catchments. As a result of its rich history of research and abundance of long‐term data, the FEF is positioned to continue to advance understanding of forest ecosystems in a time of unprecedented change.

     
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Tracer‐aided rainfall‐runoff modelling is a promising tool for understanding catchment hydrology, particularly when tracers provide information about coupled hydrological‐biogeochemical processes. Such models allow for predicting the quality and quantity of water under changing climatic and anthropogenic conditions. Here, we present the Spatially‐distributed Tracer‐Aided Rainfall‐Runoff model with a coupled biogeochemical reactive tracer module (STARR‐DOC) to simulate dissolved organic carbon (DOC) dynamics and sources. The STARR‐DOC model was developed and tested for a humid high Andean ecosystem (páramo) using high‐resolution hourly DOC and hydrometeorological data to simulate hourly discharge and DOC at a fine spatial (10 × 10 m) resolution. Overall, the model was able to acceptably reproduce discharge (KGE ~ 0.45) and stream DOC (KGE ~ 0.69) dynamics. Spatially distributed DOC simulations were independently compared using point DOC measurements for different soil types across the catchment, which allowed for identifying DOC production hot spots and hot moments. Results showed higher hydrological connectivity between slopes and valleys with increasing precipitation. Wetter conditions also favoured DOC production (wet month = 82 mg L−1, dry month = 5 mg L−1) and transport to the stream network (DOC concentrations: during events ~15 mg L−1, during baseflows ~4 mg L−1). Our results also suggest that minor changes in meteorological conditions directly affect páramo soil water dynamics and biogeochemistry. Knowledge of when and where DOC production in mountain catchments is greatest is important for water managers to understand when they make decisions about water security, especially considering climate change predictions for the Andean region.

     
    more » « less
  4. It is essential to identify the dominant flow paths, hot spots and hot periods of hydrological nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) losses for developing nitrogen loads reduction strategies in agricultural watersheds. Coupled biogeochemical transformations and hydrological connectivity regulate the spatiotemporal dynamics of water and NO3-N export along surface and subsurface flows. However, modeling performance is usually limited by the oversimplification of natural and human-managed processes and insufficient representation of spatiotemporally varied hydrological and biogeochemical cycles in agricultural watersheds. In this study, we improved a spatially distributed process-based hydro-ecological model (DLEM-catchment) and applied the model to four tile-drained catchments with mixed agricultural management and diverse landscape in Iowa, Midwestern US. The quantitative statistics show that the improved model well reproduced the daily and monthly water discharge, NO3-N concentration and loading measured from 2015 to 2019 in all four catchments. The model estimation shows that subsurface flow (tile flow + lateral flow) dominates the discharge (70%-75%) and NO3-N loading (77%-82%) over the years. However, the contributions of tile drainage and lateral flow vary remarkably among catchments due to different tile-drained area percentages and the presence of farmed potholes (former depressional wetlands that have been drained for agricultural production). Furthermore, we found that agricultural management (e.g. tillage and fertilizer management) and catchment characteristics (e.g. soil properties, farmed potholes, and tile drainage) play important roles in predicting the spatial distributions of NO3-N leaching and loading. The simulated results reveal that the model improvements in representing water retention capacity (snow processes, soil roughness, and farmed potholes) and tile drainage improved model performance in estimating discharge and NO3-N export at a daily time step, while improvement of agricultural management mainly impacts NO3-N export prediction. This study underlines the necessity of characterizing catchment properties, agricultural management practices, flow-specific NO3-N movement, and spatial heterogeneity of NO3-N fluxes for accurately simulating water quality dynamics and predicting the impacts of agricultural conservation nutrient reduction strategies. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Although most lotic ecosystems experience frequent and sometimes large disturbances, opportunities are uncommon to study primary succession in streams. Exceptions include new stream channels arising from events such as glacial retreat, volcanism, and catastrophic landslides. In 1980, the eruption and massive landslide at Mount St. Helens (WA, U.S.A.) created an entire landscape with five new catchments undergoing primary succession. We asked if riparian and lotic assemblages at early successional stages (36 years after the eruption) showed predictable change along longitudinal gradients within catchments, and whether assemblages were similar among five replicate catchments.

    In July 2016, we collected environmental data and characterised riparian, algal, and benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages at 21 stream reaches distributed within and among five neighbouring catchments. We evaluated patterns of richness, abundance, biomass, multivariate taxonomic community structure, and functional traits both longitudinally and among catchments.

    We found minimal evidence that longitudinal gradients had developed within catchments at 36 years post‐eruption. Increases in diatom and macroinvertebrate richness with downstream distance were the only biological responses with longitudinal trends. Conversely, we documented substantial variation in community structure of riparian plants, soft‐bodied algae, diatoms, and macroinvertebrates at the among‐catchment scale. Among‐catchment differences consistently separated two eastern catchments from three western catchments, and these two groups also differed in stream water chemistry, water temperature, and geomorphology.

    Overall, we documented greater diversity in the young catchments than predicted by ecologists in the years immediately following the eruption, yet functional traits indicate that these catchments are still in relatively early stages of succession. Variation at the among‐catchment scale is likely to be driven in part by hydrological source variation, with the two eastern catchments showing environmental signatures associated with glacial ice‐melt and the three western catchments probably fed primarily by springs from groundwater aquifers. Contemporary flow disturbance regimes also varied among catchments and successional trajectories were probably reset repeatedly in streams experiencing more frequent disturbance.

    Similar to new stream channels formed following glacial retreat, our results support a tolerance model of succession in streams. However, contrasting abiotic templates among Mount St. Helens catchments appear to be driving different successional trajectories of riparian plant, algal, and macroinvertebrate assemblages among neighbouring small catchments sharing the same catastrophic disturbance history.

     
    more » « less