Nutrient concentration patterns in streams draining alpine and subalpine catchments, Fraser Experimental Forest, Colorado

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Streamwater samples were collected during 1987-1988 from two adjacent gauged watersheds, the subalpine-alpine East St. Louis and the Fool Creek Alpine, in the Fraser Experimental Forest, Colorado. The study objective was to compare the relationships between streamwater discharge and ion concentration in alpine and alpine-subalpine watersheds at a site receiving low inputs of atmospheric contaminants. Streamwater discharge accounts for much of the variation in ion concentration. Trajectories of time, discharge, and ion concentration suggest that patterns of nutrient flux are controlled primarily by the magnitude of streamwater discharge, and seasonal differences in the relative contributions of snowmelt and soil water. In the subalpine catchment, increased streamwater discharge accounted for most of the decline in concentration of ions, with high concentrations in soil water relative to precipitation. This relationship was not seen in the alpine catchment, probably because of the influence of large diurnal variation in the ratio of snowmelt to soil water. In both catchments, ions with comparatively high concentrations in precipitation and the snowpack relative to soil water showed less concentration decline with increased streamwater discharge. The recurring nature of the trajectories, especially in the subalpine catchment, suggests that the time, discharge, and ion concentration patterns may represent a general characteristic in moderate-sized, undisturbed Rocky Mountain catchments which do not receive high inputs of airborne contaminants. © 1992.

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Journal of Hydrology