Nitrate dynamics within a stream-lake network through time and space

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Luke C Loken1, John T Crawford2, Evan S Childress1, Nora J Casson3 and Emily H Stanley1, (1)University of Wisconsin Madison, Center for Limnology, Madison, WI, United States, (2)USGS, National Research Program, Boulder, CO, United States, (3)University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Nitrate dynamics in streams are governed by biology, hydrology, and geomorphology, and the ability to parse these drivers apart has improved with the development of accurate high-frequency sensors. By combining a stationary Eulerian and a quasi-Lagrangian sensor platform, we investigated the timing of nitrate flushing and identified locations of elevated biogeochemical cycling along a stream-lake network in Northern Wisconsin, USA. Two years of continuous oxygen, carbon dioxide, and discharge measurements were used to compute gross primary production (GPP) and ecosystem respiration (ER) downstream of a wetland reach of Allequash Creek. Metabolic rates and flow patterns were compared with nitrate concentrations measured every 30 minutes using an optical sensor. Additionally, we floated a sensor array from the headwater spring ponds through a heterogeneous stream reach consisting of wetlands, beaver ponds, forested segments, and two lakes. Two distinct temporal patterns of stream nitrate concentrations were observed. During high flow events such as spring snowmelt and summer rain events, nitrate concentrations increased from ~5 µM (baseflow) to 12 µM, suggesting flushing from catchment sources. During baseflow conditions, nitrate followed a diel cycle with a 0.3-1.0 µM daytime draw down. Daily nitrate reduction was positively correlated with GPP calculated from oxygen and carbon dioxide records. Lastly, spatial analyses revealed lowest nitrate concentrations in the wetland reach, approximately 2-3 µM lower than the upstream spring ponds, and downstream lakes and forested reaches. This snapshot implies greater nitrate removal potential in the wetland reach likely driven by denitrification in organic rich sediments and macrophyte uptake in the open canopy stream segment. Taken together the temporal and spatial results show the dynamics of hydrology, geomorphology, and biology to influence nitrate delivery and variability in ecosystem processing through a stream-lake system. Future ecosystem studies could benefit by including multiple reference frameworks to better assess processes not captured by a single station approach.