Testing the sensitivity of boreal headwaters using a forest clear-cutting experiment: The impact of changing flow-pathways and soil warming on dissolved organic carbon concentrations in streams
Friday, 19 December 2014
Forest disturbance such as clear-cutting has been identified as an important factor for increasing dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations in boreal streams. We used a long-term dataset of soil temperature, soil moisture, shallow ground water (GW) levels and stream DOC concentrations from three boreal first-order streams to investigate mechanisms causing these increases. Clear-cutting was found to alter soil conditions with warmer and wetter soils during summer. The application of a riparian flow concentration integration model (RIM) explained a major part of variation in stream [DOC] arising from changing flow-pathways in riparian soils during the pre-treatment period (r2= 0.4-0.7), but less well after the harvest. Model residuals were highly sensitive to changes in soil temperature. The linear regression models for the temperature dependence of [DOC] in soils were not different in the disturbed and undisturbed catchments, whereas a non-linear response to soil moisture was found. Overall these results suggest that the increased DOC mobilization after forest disturbance is caused by (i) increased GW levels leading to increased water fluxes in shallow flow-path in riparian soils and (ii) increased soil temperature increasing the DOC availability in soils during summer. These relationships indicate that the mechanisms of DOC mobilization after forest disturbance are not different to those of undisturbed catchments, but that catchment soils respond to the higher hydro-climatic variation observed after clear-cutting. This highlights the sensitivity of boreal streams to changes in the energy and water balance, which may be altered as a result of both land management and climate change.