We explored catchment processes that control stream nutrient concentrations at an upland forest in northeastern Vermont, USA, where inputs of nitrogen via atmospheric deposition are among the highest in the nation and affect ecosystem functioning. We traced sources of water, nitrate, and dissolved organic matter (DOM) using stream water samples collected at high frequency during spring snowmelt. Hydrochemistry, isotopic tracers, and end-member mixing analyses suggested the timing, sources, and source areas from which water and nutrients entered the stream. Although stream-dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) both originated from leaching of soluble organic matter, flushing responses between these two DOM components varied because of dynamic shifts of hydrological flow paths and sources that supply the highest concentrations of DOC and DON. High concentrations of stream water nitrate originated from atmospheric sources as well as nitrified sources from catchment soils. We detected nitrification in surficial soils during late snowmelt which affected the nitrate supply that was available to be transported to streams. However, isotopic tracers showed that the majority of nitrate in upslope surficial soil waters after the onset of snowmelt originated from atmospheric sources. A fraction of the atmospheric nitrogen was directly delivered to the stream, and this finding highlights the importance of quick flow pathways during snowmelt events. These findings indicate that interactions among sources, transformations, and hydrologic transport processes must be deciphered to understand why concentrations vary over time and over space as well as to elucidate the direct effects of human activities on nutrient dynamics in upland forest streams.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Water Science and Technology