Boreal forest riparian zones regulate stream sulfate and dissolved organic carbon

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In boreal forest catchments, solute transfer to streams is controlled by hydrological and biogeochemical processes occurring in the riparian zone (RZ). However, RZs are spatially heterogeneous and information about solute chemistry is typically limited. This is problematic when making inferences about stream chemistry. Hypothetically, the strength of links between riparian and stream chemistry is time-scale dependent. Using a ten-year (2003-2012) dataset from a northern Swedish catchment, we evaluated the suitability of RZ data to infer stream dynamics at different time scales. We focus on the role of the RZ versus upslope soils in controlling sulfate (SO42-) and dissolved organic carbon (DOC). A priori, declines in acid deposition and redox-mediated SO42- pulses control sulfur (S) fluxes and pool dynamics, which in turn affect dissolved organic carbon (DOC). We found that the catchment is currently a net source of S, presumably due to release of the S pool accumulated during the acidification period. In both, RZ and stream, SO42- concentrations are declining over time, whereas DOC is increasing. No temporal trends in SO42- and DOC were observed in upslope mineral soils. SO42- explained the variation of DOC in stream and RZ, but not in upslope mineral soil. Moreover, as SO42- decreased with time, temporal variability of DOC increased. These observations indicate that: (1) SO42- is still an important driver of DOC trends in boreal catchments and (2) RZ processes control stream SO42- and subsequently DOC independently of upslope soils. These phenomena are likely occurring in many regions recovering from acidification. Because water flows through a heterogeneous mosaic of RZs before entering the stream, upscaling information from limited RZ data to the catchment level is problematic at short-time scales. However, for long-term trends and annual dynamics, the same data can provide reasonable representations of riparian processes and support meaningful inferences about stream chemistry.




Ledesma, J. L. J., Futter, M. N., Laudon, H., Evans, C. D., & Köhler, S. J. (2016). Boreal forest riparian zones regulate stream sulfate and dissolved organic carbon. Science of the Total Environment, 560561, 110–122.

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