, Volume 130, Issue 3, pp 247–265 | Cite as

Regional meteorological drivers and long term trends of winter-spring nitrate dynamics across watersheds in northeastern North America

  • Jill CrossmanEmail author
  • M. Catherine Eimers
  • Nora J. Casson
  • Douglas A. Burns
  • John L. Campbell
  • Gene E. Likens
  • Myron J. Mitchell
  • Sarah J. Nelson
  • James B. Shanley
  • Shaun A. Watmough
  • Kara L. Webster


This study evaluated the contribution of winter rain-on-snow (ROS) events to annual and seasonal nitrate (N-NO3) export and identified the regional meteorological drivers of inter-annual variability in ROS N-NO3 export (ROS-N) at 9 headwater streams located across Ontario, Canada and the northeastern United States. Although on average only 3.3 % of annual precipitation fell as ROS during winter over the study period, these events contributed a significant proportion of annual and winter N-NO3 export at the majority of sites (average of 12 and 42 %, respectively); with the exception of the most northern catchment, where total winter precipitation was exceptionally low (average 77 mm). In years with a greater magnitude of ROS events, the timing of the peak N-NO3 export period (during spring melt) was redistributed to earlier in the year. Variability in ROS frequency and magnitude amongst sites was high and a generalised linear model demonstrated that this spatial variability could be explained by interactive effects between regional and site-specific drivers. Snowpack coverage was particularly important for explaining the site-specific ROS response. Specifically, ROS events were less common when higher temperatures eliminated snow cover despite increasing the proportion of winter rainfall, whereas ROS event frequency was greater at sites where sufficient snow cover remained. This research suggests that catchment response to changes in N deposition is sensitive to climate change; a vulnerability which appears to vary in intensity throughout the seasonally snow-covered temperate region. Furthermore, the sensitivity of stream N-NO3 export to ROS events and potential shifts (earlier) in the timing of N-NO3 export relative to other nutrients affect downstream nutrient stoichiometry and the community composition of phytoplankton and other algae.


Rain-on-snow Nitrate Meteorological drivers 



The authors thank the many agencies that contributed to the long-term data records for these sites. The cross-site comparison was funded by an NSERC Strategic Grant. Monitoring of Harp and Dickie Lake was supported by the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, and the Dorset Environmental Science Centre. The long-term data from IISD-ELA represent the hard work of many past and present staff, and are gratefully acknowledged. BBWM data have been collected since 1986 with support from the US EPA, US NSF, USGS, USFS, the Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station, and the University of Maine. Funding for precipitation and streamwater chemistry at Hubbard Brook was provided by the National Science Foundation, including the LTER and LTERB programs, and the A.W. Mellon Foundation; hydrometeorological data were obtained through support from the USDA Forest Service. Data collection at Biscuit Brook is funded by the Long-Term Monitoring Program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Funding for this research at the TLW sites was provided by Canadian Forest Service base funds.

Supplementary material

10533_2016_255_MOESM1_ESM.docx (156 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 155 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jill Crossman
    • 1
    Email author
  • M. Catherine Eimers
    • 1
  • Nora J. Casson
    • 2
  • Douglas A. Burns
    • 3
  • John L. Campbell
    • 4
  • Gene E. Likens
    • 5
    • 6
  • Myron J. Mitchell
    • 7
  • Sarah J. Nelson
    • 8
  • James B. Shanley
    • 9
  • Shaun A. Watmough
    • 10
  • Kara L. Webster
    • 11
  1. 1.School of the EnvironmentTrent UniversityPeterboroughCanada
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of WinnipegWinnipegCanada
  3. 3.New York Water Science CenterUS Geological SurveyTroyUSA
  4. 4.Northern Research StationUSDA Forest ServiceDurhamUSA
  5. 5.Cary Institute of Ecosystem StudiesMillbrookUSA
  6. 6.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA
  7. 7.State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and ForestrySyracuseUSA
  8. 8.School of Forest ResourcesUniversity of MaineOronoUSA
  9. 9.New England Water Science CenterUS Geological SurveyPembrokeUSA
  10. 10.Environmental and Resource Studies ProgramTrent UniversityPeterboroughCanada
  11. 11.Natural Resources CanadaCanadian Forest ServiceSault Ste. MarieCanada

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