Effect of reduced winter precipitation and increased temperature on watershed solute flux, 1988-2002, Northern Michigan

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Since 1987 we have studied weekly change in winter (December-April) precipitation, snowpack, snowmelt, soil water, and stream water solute flux in a small (176-ha) Northern Michigan watershed vegetated by 65-85 year-old northern hardwoods. Our primary study objective was to quantify the effect of change in winter temperature and precipitation on watershed hydrology and solute flux. During the study winter runoff was correlated with precipitation, and forest soils beneath the snowpack remained unfrozen. Winter air temperature and soil temperature beneath the snowpack increased while precipitation and snowmelt declined. Atmospheric inputs declined for H+, NO 3- , NH 4+ , dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN), and SO 42- . Replicated plot-level results, which could not be directly extrapolated to the watershed scale, showed 90% of atmospheric DIN input was retained in surface shallow ( < 15 cm deep) soils while SO 42- flux increased 70% and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) 30-fold. Most stream water base cation (C B), HCO 3- , and Cl- concentrations declined with increased stream water discharge, K+, NO 3- , and SO 42- remained unchanged, and DOC and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) increased. Winter stream water solute outputs declined or were unchanged with time except for NO 3- and DOC which increased. DOC and DIN outputs were correlated with the percentage of winter runoff and stream discharge that occurred when subsurface flow at the plot-level was shallow ( < 25 cm beneath Oi). Study results suggest that the percentage of annual runoff occurring as shallow lateral subsurface flow may be a major factor regulating solute outputs and concentrations in snowmelt-dominated ecosystems. © Springer 2006.

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