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  1. Abstract

    Groundwater nitrate‐N isotopes (δ15N‐) have been used to infer the effects of natural and anthropogenic change on N cycle processes in the environment. Here we report unexpected changes in groundwater δ15N‐ for riparian zones affected by relict milldams and road salt salinization. Contrary to natural, undammed conditions, groundwater δ15N‐ values declined from the upland edge through the riparian zone and were lowest near the stream. Groundwater δ15N‐ values increased for low electron donor (dissolved organic carbon) to acceptor ratios but decreased beyond a change point in ratios. Groundwater δ15N‐ values were particularly low for the riparian milldam site subjected to road‐salt salinization. We attributed these N isotopic trends to suppression of denitrification, occurrence of dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA), and/or effects of road salt salinization. Groundwater δ15N‐ can provide valuable insights into process mechanisms and can serve as “imprints” of anthropogenic activities and legacies.

     
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  2. Whalen, Joann (Ed.)
    Abstract

    Residential landscapes are essential to the sustainability of large areas of the United States. However, spatial and temporal variation across multiple domains complicates developing policies to balance these systems’ environmental, economic, and equity dimensions. We conducted multidisciplinary studies in the Baltimore, MD, USA, metropolitan area to identify locations (hotspots) or times (hot moments) with a disproportionate influence on nitrogen export, a widespread environmental concern. Results showed high variation in the inherent vulnerability/sensitivity of individual parcels to cause environmental damage and in the knowledge and practices of individual managers. To the extent that hotspots are the result of management choices by homeowners, there are straightforward approaches to improve outcomes, e.g. fertilizer restrictions and incentives to reduce fertilizer use. If, however, hotspots arise from the configuration and inherent characteristics of parcels and neighborhoods, efforts to improve outcomes may involve more intensive and complex interventions, such as conversion to alternative ecosystem types.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 29, 2024
  3. Abstract

    The compounding effects of anthropogenic legacies for environmental pollution are significant, but not well understood. Here, we show that centennial‐scale legacies of milldams and decadal‐scale legacies of road salt salinization interact in unexpected ways to produce hot spots of nitrogen (N) in riparian zones. Riparian groundwater and stream water concentrations upstream of two mid‐Atlantic (Pennsylvania and Delaware) milldams, 2.4 and 4 m tall, were sampled over a 2 year period. Clay and silt‐rich legacy sediments with low hydraulic conductivity, stagnant and poorly mixed hydrologic conditions, and persistent hypoxia in riparian sediments upstream of milldams produced a unique biogeochemical gradient with nitrate removal via denitrification at the upland riparian edge and ammonium‐N accumulation in near‐stream sediments and groundwaters. Riparian groundwater ammonium‐N concentrations upstream of the milldams ranged from 0.006 to 30.6 mgN L−1while soil‐bound values were 0.11–456 mg kg−1. We attribute the elevated ammonium concentrations to ammonification with suppression of nitrification and/or dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA). Sodium inputs to riparian groundwater (25–1,504 mg L−1) from road salts may further enhance DNRA and ammonium production and displace sorbed soil ammonium‐N into groundwaters. This study suggests that legacies of milldams and road salts may undercut the N buffering capacity of riparian zones and need to be considered in riparian buffer assessments, watershed management plans, and dam removal decisions. Given the widespread existence of dams and other barriers and the ubiquitous use of road salt, the potential for this synergistic N pollution is significant.

     
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  4. Abstract

    Milldams and their legacies have significantly influenced fluvial processes and geomorphology. However, less is known about their effects on riparian zone hydrology, biogeochemistry, and water quality. Here, we discuss the potential effects of existing and breached milldams on riparian nitrogen (N) processing through multiple competing hypotheses and observations from complementary studies. Competing hypotheses characterize riparian zone processes that remove (sink) or release (source) N. Elevated groundwater levels and reducing soil conditions upstream of milldams suggest that riparian zones above dams could be hotspots for N removal via denitrification and plant N uptake. On the other hand, dam removals and subsequent drops in stream and riparian groundwater levels result in drained, oxic soils which could increase soil nitrification and decrease riparian plant uptake due to groundwater bypassing the root zone. Whether dam removals would result in a net increase or decrease of N in riparian groundwaters is unknown and needs to be investigated. While nitrification, denitrification, and plant N uptake have typically received the most attention in riparian studies, other N cycle processes such as dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA) need to be considered. We also propose a novel concept of riparian discontinuum, which highlights the hydrologic and biogeochemical discontinuities introduced in riparian zones by anthropogenic structures such as milldams. Understanding and quantifying how milldams and similar structures influence the net source or sink behavior of riparian zones is urgently needed for guiding watershed management practices and for informed decision making with regard to dam removals.

     
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  5. Abstract

    Dam removals are on the increase across the US with Pennsylvania currently leading the nation. While most dam removals are driven by aquatic habitat and public safety considerations, we know little about how dam removals impact water quality and riparian zone processes. Dam removals decrease the stream base level, which results in dewatering of the riparian zone. We hypothesized that this dewatering of the riparian zone would increase nitrification and decrease denitrification, and thus result in nitrogen (N) leakage from riparian zones. This hypothesis was tested for a 1.5 m high milldam removal. Stream, soil water, and groundwater N concentrations were monitored over 2 years. Soil N concentrations and process rates andδ15N values were also determined. Denitrification rates and soilδ15N values in riparian sediments decreased supporting our hypothesis but no significant changes in nitrification were observed. While surficial soil water nitrate‐N concentrations were high (median 4.5 mg N L−1), riparian groundwater nitrate‐N values were low (median 0.09 mg N L−1), indicating that nitrate‐N leakage was minimal. We attribute the low groundwater nitrate‐N to denitrification losses at the lower, more dynamic, groundwater interface and/or dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA). Stream water nitrate‐N concentrations were high (median 7.6 mg N L−1) and contrary to our dam‐removal hypothesis displayed a watershed‐wide decline that was attributed to regional hydrologic changes. This study provided important first insights on how dam removals could affect N cycle processes in riparian zones and its implications for water quality and watershed management.

     
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  6. Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 23, 2024