, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 323–342 | Cite as

Transport of phosphorus, nitrogen, and carbon by the Apure River, Venezuela

  • James F. SaundersIII
  • William M. LewisJr.


The concentrations and transport of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus were studied in the Apure River, Venezuela, over a period of 21 months. The drainage basin, which is in western Venezuela, encompasses 167,000 kM2, most of which has low relief and supports tropical savanna vegetation. Average runoff for the period of study was 361 mm/year. Discharge-weighted mean concentrations were 188 ug/l for total P, 957 ug/l for total N, and 9.8 mg/l for organic C. Annual transport was 0.68 kg· ha-1· year-1 for total P, 3.45 kg · ha-1· year-1 for total N, and 35.4 kg · ha-1 · year-1 for organic C. Particulate matter accounted for 68% of P, 54% of N, and 37% of C transport. The yield of carbon from the Apure watershed agrees well with empirical predictions, based mostly on the temperate zone, for watersheds of similar size and water yield.

Seasonal patterns in chemistry are tied strongly to the hydrologic cycle. When the wet season begins, rising water flushes organic matter from side channels and produces a sharp increase in particulate C and N. Particulate P, which is associated more with mineral material, also increases during rising water. All dissolved constituents except inorganic C also increase over the rising-water phase. As the river inundates the floodplain, the concentration of nitrate declines, whereas the concentrations of dissolved organic C and N continue to rise. At high water the floodplain appears to store sediments that are later remobilized. During low water, all fractions except dissolved inorganic C tend to be at minimum concentration.

Soluble reactive P, total dissolved P, dissolved inorganic C, and dissolved organic C were successfully modelled as hyperbolic functions of discharge. No significant relationships were found between concentration and discharge for any particulate fraction because the flushing and storage mechanisms affecting these fractions occurred within specific hydrologic phases, rather than as a smooth function of discharge. No significant relationships were found for any nitrogen fraction. For nitrate, and thus for total dissolved N, of which nitrate is a major component, poor conformance to standard models is explained by association of key mechanisms (e.g. uptake) with specific hydrologic phases. Particulate components and nitrate in this sense violate the continuity assumptions implicit in the standard models.

Key words

tropical river tropical floodplain river chemistry nutrient yield floodplain-river interaction 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • James F. SaundersIII
    • 1
  • William M. LewisJr.
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Limnology, Dept. of Environmental, Population, and Organismic BiologyUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA

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