, Volume 78, Issue 2, pp 217-246

First online:

Solute Sources in Stream Water during Consecutive Fall Storms in a Northern Hardwood Forest Watershed: A Combined Hydrological, Chemical and Isotopic Approach

  • M. J. MitchellAffiliated withCollege of Environmental Science and Forestry, State University of New York Email author 
  • , K. B. PiatekAffiliated withCollege of Environmental Science and Forestry, State University of New YorkDivision of Forestry, West Virginia University
  • , S. ChristopherAffiliated withCollege of Environmental Science and Forestry, State University of New York
  • , B. MayerAffiliated withDepartment of Geology and Geophysics, University of Calgary
  • , C. KendallAffiliated withWater Resources Division, USGS
  • , P. MchaleAffiliated withCollege of Environmental Science and Forestry, State University of New York

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Understanding the effects of climate change including precipitation patterns has important implications for evaluating the biogeochemical responses of watersheds. We focused on four storms in late summer and early fall that occurred after an exceptionally dry period in 2002. We analyzed not only the influence of these storms on episodic chemistry and the role of different water sources in affecting surface water chemistry, but also the relative contributions of these storms to annual biogeochemical mass balances. The study site was a well studied 135-ha watershed in the Adirondack Park of New York State (USA). Our analyses integrated measurements on hydrology, solute chemistry and the isotopic composition of NO 3 15N and δ18O) and SO 4 2− 34S and δ18O) to evaluate how these storms affected surface water chemistry. Precipitation amounts varied among the storms (Storm 1: Sept. 14–18, 18.5 mm; Storm 2: Sept. 21–24, 33 mm; Storm 3: Sept. 27–29, 42.9 mm; Storm 4: Oct. 16–21, 67.6 mm). Among the four storms, there was an increase in water yields from 2 to 14%. These water yields were much less than in studies of storms in previous years at this same watershed when antecedent moisture conditions were higher. In the current study, early storms resulted in relatively small changes in water chemistry. With progressive storms the changes in water chemistry became more marked with particularly major changes in Cb (sum of base cations), Si, NO 3 , and SO 4 2− , DOC and pH. Analyses of the relationships between Si, DOC, discharge and water table height clearly indicated that there was a decrease in ground water contributions (i.e., lower Si concentrations and higher DOC concentrations) as the watershed wetness increased with storm succession. The marked changes in chemistry were also reflected in changes in the isotopic composition of SO 4 2− and NO 3 . There was a strong inverse relationship between SO 4 2− concentrations and δ34S values suggesting the importance of S biogeochemical redox processes in contributing to SO 4 2− export. The isotopic composition of NO 3 in stream water indicated that this N had been microbially processed. Linkages between SO 4 2− and DOC concentrations suggest that wetlands were major sources of these solutes to drainage waters while the chemical and isotopic response of NO 3 suggested that upland sources were more important. Although these late summer and fall storms did not play a major role in the overall annual mass balances of solutes for this watershed, these events had distinctive chemistry including depressed pH and therefore have important consequences to watershed processes such as episodic acidification, and the linkage of these processes to climate change.


Hydrology Isotopes Nitrate Storms Sulfate Watershed