Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Hydroclimatic and spatial controls on stream nutrient export from forested catchments
Winter nutrient export from forested catchments is extremely variable from year-to-year and across the landscape of south-central Ontario. Understanding the controls on this variability is critical, as what happens during the winter sets up the timing and nature of the spring snowmelt, the major period of export for water and nutrients from seasonally snow-covered forests. Furthermore, winter processes are especially vulnerable to changes in climate, particularly to shifts in precipitation from snow to rain as air temperatures rise. The objective of this thesis was to assess climatic and topographic controls on variability in stream nutrient export from a series of forested catchments in south-central Ontario. The impacts of climate on the timing and magnitude of winter stream nutrient export, with particular focus on the impact of winter rain-on-snow (ROS) events was investigated through a) analysis of long-term hydrological, chemical and meteorological records and b) high frequency chemical and isotopic measurements of stream and snow samples over two winters. The relationship between topography and variability in stream chemistry among catchments was investigated through a) a series of field and laboratory incubations to measure rates and discern controls on nitrogen mineralization and nitrification and b) analysis of high resolution spatial data to assess relationships between topographic metrics and seasonal stream chemistry. Warmer winters with more ROS events were shown to shift the bulk of nitrate (NO3-N) export earlier in the winter at the expense of spring export; this pattern was not observed in other nutrients [i.e. dissolved organic carbon (DOC), total phosphorus (TP), sulphate (SO4), calcium (Ca)]. Hydrograph separation revealed the majority of ROS flow came from baseflow, but the NO3-N concentrations in rainfall and melting snow were so high that the majority of NO3-N export was due to these two sources. Other nutrient concentrations did not show such a great separation between sources, and thus event export of these nutrients was not as great. Proportionally, catchments with varying topography responded similarly to ROS events, but the absolute magnitude of export varied substantially, due to differences in baseflow NO3-N concentrations. Field and laboratory incubations revealed differences in rates of net NO3-N production between wetland soils and upland soils, suggesting that topographic differences amongst catchments may be responsible for differences in baseflow NO3-N. Spatial analysis of digital elevation models revealed strong relationships between wetland coverage and DOC and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) concentrations in all seasons, but relationships between topography and NO3-N were often improved by considering only the area within 50 or 100m of the stream channel. This suggests nutrient cycling processes occurring near the stream channel may exert a stronger control over NO3-N stream outflow chemistry. Overall, topography and climate exert strong controls over spatial and temporal variability in stream chemistry at forested catchments; it is important to consider the interaction of these two factors when predicting the effects of future changes in climate or deposition. Author Keywords: biogeochemistry, forest, nitrate, south-central Ontario, stream chemistry, winter

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