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  1. Abstract

    Rivers are among the most imperiled ecosystems globally, yet we do not have broad‐scale understanding of their changing ecology because most are rarely sampled. Water color, as perceived by the human eye, is an integrative measure of water quality directly observed by satellites. We examined patterns in river color between 1984 and 2018 by building a remote sensing database of surface reflectance, RiverSR, extracted from 234,727 Landsat images covering 108,000 kilometers of rivers > 60 m wide in the contiguous USA. We found 1) broad regional patterns in river color, with 56% of observations dominantly yellow and 38% dominantly green; 2) river color has three distinct seasonal patterns that were synchronous with flow regimes; 3) one third of rivers had significant color shifts over the last 35 years. RiverSR provides the first map of river color and new insights into macrosystems ecology of rivers.

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  2. Abstract

    Descriptions of river network topology do not include lakes/reservoirs that are connected to rivers. We describe the properties and scaling patterns of river network topology across the contiguous United States: how lake/reservoir abundance, median lake/reservoir size, and median lake/reservoir spacing change with river size. Typically, lake/reservoir abundance decreases, median lake/reservoir size increases, but median lake/reservoir spacing is uniform across river size. There is a characteristic lake/reservoir size of 0.01–0.05 km2and a characteristic lake/reservoir spacing of 1–5 km that shifts to 27–61 km in larger rivers. Climate explains more of the variance in river network topology than both glacial history and constructed reservoirs. Our results provide conceptual models for building river network topologies to assess how lake/reservoir abundance, size, and spacing effect the transport, storage, and cycling of water, materials, and organisms across networks.

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    Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is the largest global source of anthropogenic mercury emissions. However, little is known about how effectively mercury released from ASGM is converted into the bioavailable form of methylmercury in ASGM-altered landscapes. Through examination of ASGM-impacted river basins in Peru, we show that lake area in heavily mined watersheds has increased by 670% between 1985 and 2018 and that lakes in this area convert mercury into methylmercury at net rates five to seven times greater than rivers. These results suggest that synergistic increases in lake area and mercury loading associated with ASGM are substantially increasing exposure risk for people and wildlife. Similarly, marked increases in lake area in other ASGM hot spots suggest that “hydroscape” (hydrological landscape) alteration is an important and previously unrecognized component of mercury risk from ASGM. 
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  5. Satellites provide a temporally discontinuous record of hydrological conditions along Earth’s rivers (e.g., river width, height, water quality). The degree to which archived satellite data effectively capture the overall population of river flow frequency is unknown. Here, we use the entire archives of Landsat 5, 7, and 8 to determine when a cloud-free image is available over the United States Geological Survey (USGS) river gauges located on Landsat-observable rivers. We compare the flow frequency distribution derived from the daily gauge record to the flow frequency distribution derived from ideally sampling gauged discharge based on the timing of cloud-free Landsat overpasses. Examining the patterns of flow frequency across multiple gauges, we find that there is not a statistically significant difference between the flow frequency distribution associated with observations contained within the Landsat archive and the flow frequency distribution derived from the daily gauge data (α = 0.05), except for hydrological extremes like maximum and minimum flow. At individual gauges, we find that Landsat observations span a wide range of hydrological conditions (97% of total flow variability observed in 90% of the study gauges) but the degree to which the Landsat sample can represent flow frequency distribution varies from location to location and depends on sample size. The results of this study indicate that the Landsat archive is, on average, representative of the temporal frequencies of hydrological conditions present along Earth’s large rivers with broad utility for hydrological, ecologic and biogeochemical evaluations of river systems. 
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