Characterizing the Influence of Flow Regime and Landcover on the Geochemical Nature and Magnitude of Riverine Phosphorus and Trace Metal Loads

Friday, 19 December 2014
Braden Rosenberg and Andrew W Schroth, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT, United States
Within aquatic systems, phosphorus (P) is a common limiting nutrient present in low bioavailable concentrations. Colloidal and particulate phases of the trace metals manganese (Mn) and iron (Fe) are common scavengers of phosphate in the freshwater environment, and the distribution and stability of such phases is thought to influence the bioavailability of P. The partitioning and flux of P and TM in rivers can be driven by the geochemical source of these constituents, as well as the hydrologic/biogeochemical pathways active within the watershed, both of which vary based on hydrologic condition and landcover. This study investigates how different landcovers (suburban, agricultural, forested, glacial) contribute to P and TM flux and partitioning during high-flow events (snowmelt, glacial melt, storms). High-resolution water and suspended sediment sampling was conducted during snowmelt in Vermont, as well as during summer storms and baseflow conditions. In Alaska, samples were collected during baseflow, glacial melt, and storm events to provide additional data from other landcovers and hydrologic systems. Initial analyses suggest that the size fraction, loading, and relative lability of water and suspended sediment pools of TM and P are strongly influenced by both land cover and seasonality/hydrology. Samples collected during snowmelt in VT show high concentrations of dissolved and potentially bioavailable particulate P at the start of melt that decrease over time. Coupled with high discharge events, a substantial load of labile P is delivered during this particular high flow period. As snowmelt transitions to baseflow conditions, with intermittent storms the character of the suspended sediment changes drastically, with lower total concentrations of P and TM as well as a lower proportion of extractable P (bound to easily reduced oxyhydroxides) to total sediment P. This study highlights that the snowmelt period is not only important from an overall all load standpoint, but may be geochemically unique and provide a particularly reactive flux of dissolved and particulate P and TM. Furthermore, irrespective of high flow event timing or magnitude, landcover dramatically impacts the character and size of P and TM pools, with particularly high concentrations of labile P in agricultural systems.