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  1. Abstract

    Sulfur, as an essential nutrient for plant growth, has increasingly been used in fertiliser applications for many crops. This increase is coincident with declines in atmospheric sulfur deposition in response to air quality improvements in the United States and Europe. Here, we evaluate trends in sulfur fertiliser sales by mass, as a proxy for fertiliser applications, and estimate total atmospheric sulfur deposition across the Midwestern United States. Crop acreage, yield and sulfur fertiliser application substantially increased between 1985 and 2015, coincident with declines in atmospheric sulfur deposition. The increase in sulfur fertiliser has outpaced the relative rate of change in other major nutrient fertilisers including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, by approximately 7-fold prior to 2009, and 29-fold after 2009. We suggest that there is a critical need to develop sulfur management tools that optimize fertiliser applications to maintain crop yields while minimizing the consequences of excess sulfur in the environment.

  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2023
  3. Abstract

    The environmental fates and consequences of intensive sulfur (S) applications to croplands are largely unknown. In this study, we used S stable isotopes to identify and trace agricultural S from field-to-watershed scales, an initial and timely step toward constraining the modern S cycle. We conducted our research within the Napa River Watershed, California, US, where vineyards receive frequent fungicidal S sprays. We measured soil and surface water sulfate concentrations ([SO42−]) and stable isotopes (δ34S–SO42−), which we refer to in combination as the ‘S fingerprint’. We compared samples collected from vineyards and surrounding forests/grasslands, which receive background atmospheric and geologic S sources. Vineyardδ34S–SO42−values were 9.9 ± 5.9‰ (median ± interquartile range), enriched by ∼10‰ relative to forests/grasslands (−0.28 ± 5.7‰). Vineyards also had roughly three-fold higher [SO42−] than forests/grasslands (13.6 and 5.0 mg SO42−–S l−1, respectively). Napa Riverδ34S–SO42−values, reflecting the watershed scale, were similar to those from vineyards (10.5 ± 7.0‰), despite vineyard agriculture constituting only ∼11% of the watershed area. Combined, our results provide important evidence that agricultural S is traceable at field-to-watershed scales, a critical step toward determining the consequences of agricultural alterations to the modern S cycle.

  4. Climate warming in alpine regions is changing patterns of water storage, a primary control on alpine plant ecology, biogeochemistry, and water supplies to lower elevations. There is an outstanding need to determine how the interacting drivers of precipitation and the critical zone (CZ) dictate the spatial pattern and time evolution of soil water storage. In this study, we developed an analytical framework that combines intensive hydrologic measurements and extensive remotely-sensed observations with statistical modeling to identify areas with similar temporal trends in soil water storage within, and predict their relationships across, a 0.26 km 2 alpine catchment in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, U.S.A. Repeat measurements of soil moisture were used to drive an unsupervised clustering algorithm, which identified six unique groups of locations ranging from predominantly dry to persistently very wet within the catchment. We then explored relationships between these hydrologic groups and multiple CZ-related indices, including snow depth, plant productivity, macro- (10 2 ->10 3 m) and microtopography (<10 0 -10 2 m), and hydrological flow paths. Finally, we used a supervised machine learning random forest algorithm to map each of the six hydrologic groups across the catchment based on distributed CZ properties and evaluated their aggregate relationships atmore »the catchment scale. Our analysis indicated that ~40–50% of the catchment is hydrologically connected to the stream channel, lending insight into the portions of the catchment that likely dominate stream water and solute fluxes. This research expands our understanding of patch-to-catchment-scale physical controls on hydrologic and biogeochemical processes, as well as their relationships across space and time, which will inform predictive models aimed at determining future changes to alpine ecosystems.« less
  5. Abstract

    This study integrated spatially distributed field observations and soil thermal models to constrain the impact of frozen ground on snowmelt partitioning and streamflow generation in an alpine catchment within the Niwot Ridge Long‐Term Ecological Research site, Colorado, USA. The study area was comprised of two contrasting hillslopes with notable differences in topography, snow depth and plant community composition. Time‐lapse electrical resistivity surveys and soil thermal models enabled extension of discrete soil moisture and temperature measurements to incorporate landscape variability at scales and depths not possible with point measurements alone. Specifically, heterogenous snowpack thickness (~0–4 m) and soil volumetric water content between hillslopes (~0.1–0.45) strongly influenced the depths of seasonal frost, and the antecedent soil moisture available to form pore ice prior to freezing. Variable frost depths and antecedent soil moisture conditions were expected to create a patchwork of differing snowmelt infiltration rates and flowpaths. However, spikes in soil temperature and volumetric water content, as well as decreases in subsurface electrical resistivity revealed snowmelt infiltration across both hillslopes that coincided with initial decreases in snow water equivalent and early increases in streamflow. Soil temperature, soil moisture and electrical resistivity data from both wet and dry hillslopes showed that initial increases inmore »streamflow occurred prior to deep soil water flux. Temporal lags between snowmelt infiltration and deeper percolation suggested that the lateral movement of water through the unsaturated zone was an important driver of early streamflow generation. These findings provide the type of process‐based information needed to bridge gaps in scale and populate physically based cryohydrologic models to investigate subsurface hydrology and biogeochemical transport in soils that freeze seasonally.

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