, Volume 90, Issue 1, pp 15–27 | Cite as

Dual isotope analyses indicate efficient processing of atmospheric nitrate by forested watersheds in the northeastern U.S.

  • Rebecca T. Barnes
  • Peter A. Raymond
  • Karen L. Casciotti


Nitrogen from atmospheric deposition serves as the dominant source of new nitrogen to forested ecosystems in the northeastern U.S. By combining isotopic data obtained using the denitrifier method, with chemical and hydrologic measurements we determined the relative importance of sources and control mechanisms on nitrate (NO3) export from five forested watersheds in the Connecticut River watershed. Microbially produced NO3 was the dominant source (82–100%) of NO3 to the sampled streams as indicated by the δ15N and δ18O of NO3. Seasonal variations in the δ18O–NO3 in streamwater are controlled by shifting hydrologic and temperature affects on biotic processing, resulting in a relative increase in unprocessed NO3 export during winter months. Mass balance estimates find that the unprocessed atmospherically derived NO3 stream flux represents less than 3% of the atmospherically delivered wet NO3 flux to the region. This suggests that despite chronically elevated nitrogen deposition these forests are not nitrogen saturated and are retaining, removing, and reprocessing the vast majority of NO3 delivered to them throughout the year. These results confirm previous work within Northeastern U.S. forests and extend observations to watersheds not dominated by a snow-melt driven hydrology. In contrast to previous work, unprocessed atmospherically derived NO3 export is associated with the period of high recharge and low biotic activity as opposed to spring snowmelt and other large runoff events.


Atmospheric deposition Nitrate processing Nitrogen Northeastern forests Stable isotopes 



Analysis of variance


Clean Air Status and Trends Network


Dissolved inorganic nitrogen


International Atomic Energy Agency






National Atmospheric Deposition Program








Vienna standard mean ocean water



per mill


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rebecca T. Barnes
    • 1
  • Peter A. Raymond
    • 1
  • Karen L. Casciotti
    • 2
  1. 1.Yale School of Forestry & Environmental StudiesNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.Department of Marine Chemistry & GeochemistryWoods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA

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