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The concurrent reduction in acid deposition and increase in precipitation impact stream solute dynamics in complex ways that make predictions of future water quality difficult. To understand how changes in acid deposition and precipitation have influenced dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and nitrogen (N) loading to streams, we investigated trends from 1991 to 2018 in stream concentrations (DOC, ~3,800 measurements), dissolved organic nitrogen (DON, ~1,160 measurements), and dissolved inorganic N (DIN, ~2,130 measurements) in a forested watershed in Vermont, USA. Our analysis included concentration-discharge (C-Q) relationships and Seasonal Mann-Kendall tests on long-term, flow-adjusted concentrations. To understand whether hydrologic flushing and changes in acid deposition influenced long-term patterns by liberating DOC and dissolved N from watershed soils, we measured their concentrations in the leachate of 108 topsoil cores of 5 cm diameter that we flushed with solutions simulating high and low acid deposition during four different seasons. Our results indicate that DOC and DON often co-varied in both the long-term stream dataset and the soil core experiment. Additionally, leachate from winter soil cores produced especially high concentrations of all three solutes. This seasonal signal was consistent with C-Q relation showing that organic materials (e.g., DOC and DON), which accumulate during winter, are flushed into streams during spring snowmelt. Acid deposition had opposite effects on DOC and DON compared to DIN in the soil core experiment. Low acid deposition solutions, which mimic present day precipitation, produced the highest DOC and DON leachate concentrations. Conversely, high acid deposition solutions generally produced the highest DIN leachate concentrations. These results are consistent with the increasing trend in stream DOC concentrations and generally decreasing trend in stream DIN we observed in the long-term data. These results suggest that the impact of acid deposition on the liberation of soil carbon (C) and N differed for DOC and DON vs. DIN, and these impacts were reflected in long-term stream chemistry patterns. As watersheds continue to recover from acid deposition, stream C:N ratios will likely continue to increase, with important consequences for stream metabolism and biogeochemical processes.more » « lessFree, publicly-accessible full text available March 13, 2024
Abstract Winters in snow-covered regions have warmed, likely shifting the timing and magnitude of nutrient export, leading to unquantified changes in water quality. Intermittent, seasonal, and permanent snow covers more than half of the global land surface. Warming has reduced the cold conditions that limit winter runoff and nutrient transport, while cold season snowmelt, the amount of winter precipitation falling as rain, and rain-on-snow have increased. We used existing geospatial datasets (rain-on-snow frequency overlain on nitrogen and phosphorous inventories) to identify areas of the contiguous United States (US) where water quality could be threatened by this change. Next, to illustrate the potential export impacts of these events, we examined flow and turbidity data from a large regional rain-on-snow event in the United States’ largest river basin, the Mississippi River Basin. We show that rain-on-snow, a major flood-generating mechanism for large areas of the globe (Berghuijs et al 2019 Water Resour. Res. 55 4582–93; Berghuijs et al 2016 Geophys. Res. Lett. 43 4382–90), affects 53% of the contiguous US and puts 50% of US nitrogen and phosphorus pools (43% of the contiguous US) at risk of export to groundwater and surface water. Further, the 2019 rain-on-snow event in the Mississippi River Basin demonstrates that these events could have large, cascading impacts on winter nutrient transport. We suggest that the assumption of low wintertime discharge and nutrient transport in historically snow-covered regions no longer holds. Critically, however, we lack sufficient data to accurately measure and predict these episodic and potentially large wintertime nutrient export events at regional to continental scales.more » « lessFree, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2023
Abstract Non-perennial rivers and streams make up over half the global river network and are becoming more widespread. Transitions from perennial to non-perennial flow are a threshold-type change that can lead to alternative stable states in aquatic ecosystems, but it is unknown whether streamflow itself is stable in either wet (flowing) or dry (no-flow) conditions. Here, we investigated drivers and feedbacks associated with regime shifts between wet and dry conditions in an intermittent reach of the Arkansas River (USA) over the past 23 years. Multiple lines of evidence suggested that these regimes represent alternative stable states, including (a) significant jumps in discharge time series that were not accompanied by jumps in flow drivers such as precipitation and groundwater pumping; (b) a multi-modal state distribution with 92% of months experiencing no-flow conditions for <10% or >90% of days, despite unimodal distributions of precipitation and pumping; and (c) a hysteretic relationship between climate and flow state. Groundwater levels appear to be the primary control over the hydrological regime, as groundwater levels in the alluvial aquifer were higher than the stream stage during wet regimes and lower than the streambed during dry regimes. Groundwater level variation, in turn, was driven by processes occurring at both the regional scale (surface water inflows from upstream, groundwater pumping) and the reach scale (stream–aquifer exchange, diffuse recharge through the soil column). Historical regime shifts were associated with diverse pressures including network disconnection caused by upstream water use, increased flow stability potentially associated with reservoir operations, and anomalous wet and dry climate conditions. In sum, stabilizing feedbacks among upstream inflows, stream–aquifer interactions, climate, vegetation, and pumping appear to create alternative wet and dry stable states at this site. These stabilizing feedbacks suggest that widespread observed shifts from perennial to non-perennial flow will be difficult to reverse.more » « less