, Volume 102, Issue 1–3, pp 223–238 | Cite as

Snow depth, soil freezing and nitrogen cycling in a northern hardwood forest landscape

  • Peter M. GroffmanEmail author
  • Janet P. Hardy
  • Samuel Fashu-Kanu
  • Charles T. Driscoll
  • Natalie L. Cleavitt
  • Timothy J. Fahey
  • Melany C. Fisk


Increases in soil freezing associated with decreases in snow cover have been identified as a significant disturbance to nitrogen (N) cycling in northern hardwood forests. We created a range of soil freezing intensity through snow manipulation experiments along an elevation gradient at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (HBEF) in the White Mountains, NH USA in order to improve understanding of the factors regulating freeze effects on nitrate (NO3 ) leaching, nitrous oxide (N2O) flux, potential and in situ net N mineralization and nitrification, microbial biomass carbon (C) and N content and respiration, and denitrification. While the snow manipulation treatment produced deep and persistent soil freezing at all sites, effects on hydrologic and gaseous losses of N were less than expected and less than values observed in previous studies at the HBEF. There was no relationship between frost depth, frost heaving and NO3 leaching, and a weak relationship between frost depth and winter N2O flux. There was a significant positive relationship between dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and NO3 concentrations in treatment plots but not in reference plots, suggesting that the snow manipulation treatment mobilized available C, which may have stimulated retention of N and prevented treatment effects on N losses. While the results support the hypothesis that climate change resulting in less snow and more soil freezing will increase N losses from northern hardwood forests, they also suggest that ecosystem response to soil freezing disturbance is affected by multiple factors that must be reconciled in future research.


Climate change Dissolved organic matter Methane Microbial biomass Nitrate Nitrous oxide 



We thank Lisa Martel for excellent field, laboratory and data analysis work. This research was supported by U.S. National Science Foundation Grants DEB 98-10221 (Hubbard Brook Long Term Ecological Research) and DEB 00-75387 (Ecosystem Studies). This research was conducted at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, which is operated and maintained by the USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Newtown Square, PA. This paper is a contribution to the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter M. Groffman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Janet P. Hardy
    • 2
  • Samuel Fashu-Kanu
    • 3
  • Charles T. Driscoll
    • 3
  • Natalie L. Cleavitt
    • 4
  • Timothy J. Fahey
    • 4
  • Melany C. Fisk
    • 5
  1. 1.Cary Institute of Ecosystem StudiesMillbrookUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Army, Cold Regions Research and Engineering LaboratoryHanoverUSA
  3. 3.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringSyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA
  4. 4.Department of Natural ResourcesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  5. 5.Department of ZoologyMiami UniversityOxfordUSA

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