Solute concentrations in stream water vary with discharge in patterns that record complex feedbacks between hydrologic and biogeochemical processes. In a comparison of headwater catchments underlain by shale in Pennsylvania, USA (Shale Hills) and Wales, UK (Plynlimon), dissimilar concentration-discharge behaviors are best explained by contrasting landscape distributions of soil solution chemistry – especially dissolved organic carbon (DOC) – that have been established by patterns of vegetation. Specifically, elements that are concentrated in organic-rich soils due to biotic cycling (Mn, Ca, K) or that form strong complexes with DOC (Fe, Al) are spatially heterogeneous in pore waters because organic matter is heterogeneously distributed across the catchments. These solutes exhibit non-chemostatic “bioactive” behavior in the streams, and solute concentrations either decrease (Shale Hills) or increase (Plynlimon) with increasing discharge. In contrast, solutes that are concentrated in soil minerals and form only weak complexes with DOC (Na, Mg, Si) are spatially homogeneous in pore waters across each catchment. These solutes are chemostatic in that their stream concentrations vary little with stream discharge, likely because these solutes are released quickly from exchange sites in the soils during rainfall events. Dierences in the hydrologic connectivity of organic-rich soils to the stream drive dierences in concentration behavior between catchments. As such, in catchments where soil organic matter (SOM) is dominantly in lowlands (e.g., Shale Hills), bioactive elements are released to the stream early during rainfall events, whereas in catchments where SOM is dominantly in uplands (e.g., Plynlimon), bioactive elements are released later during rainfall events. The distribution of vegetation and SOM across the landscape is thus a key component for predictive models of solute transport in headwater catchments.
Herndon E. M., A. L. Dere, P. L. Sullivan, D. Norris, B. Reynolds, and S. L. Brantley (2015): Biotic controls on solute distribution and transport in headwater catchments. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences Discussion. DOI: 10.5194/hessd-12-213-2015
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.