Bruns M.A.

Long‐term patterns and short‐term dynamics of stream solutes and suspended sediment in a rapidly weathering tropical watershed

Shanley, J. B., W. H. McDowell, and R. F. Stallard (2011), Long‐term patterns and short‐term dynamics of stream
solutes and suspended sediment in a rapidly weathering tropical watershed, Water Resour. Res., 47, W07515,

The 326 ha Río Icacos watershed in the tropical wet forest of the Luquillo Mountains, northeastern Puerto Rico, is underlain by granodiorite bedrock with weathering rates among the highest in the world. We pooled stream chemistry and total suspended sediment (TSS) data sets from three discrete periods: 1983–1987, 1991–1997, and 2000–2008. During this period three major hurricanes crossed the site: Hugo in 1989, Hortense in 1996, and Georges in 1998. Stream chemistry reflects sea salt inputs (Na, Cl, and SO4), and high weathering rates of the granodiorite (Ca, Mg, Si, and alkalinity). During rainfall, stream composition shifts toward that of precipitation, diluting 90% or more in the largest storms, but maintains a biogeochemical watershed signal marked by elevated K and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration. DOC exhibits an unusual “boomerang” pattern, initially increasing with flow but then decreasing at the highest flows as it becomes depleted and/or vigorous overland flow minimizes contact with watershed surfaces. TSS increased markedly with discharge (power function slope 1.54), reflecting the erosive power of large storms in a landslide‐prone landscape. The relations of TSS and most solute concentrations with stream discharge were stable through time, suggesting minimal long‐term effects from repeated hurricane disturbance. Nitrate concentration, however, increased about threefold in response to hurricanes then returned to baseline over several years following a pseudo first‐order decay pattern. The combined data sets provide insight about important hydrologic pathways, a long‐term perspective to assess response to hurricanes, and a framework to evaluate future climate change in tropical ecosystems.

Twelve testable hypotheses on the geobiology of weathering

Critical Zone (CZ) research investigates the chemical, physical, and biological processes that modulate the Earth's surface. Here, we advance 12 hypotheses that must be tested to improve our understanding of the CZ: (1) Solar-to-chemical conversion of energy by plants regulates flows of carbon, water, and nutrients through plant-microbe soil networks, thereby controlling the location and extent of biological weathering. (2) Biological stoichiometry drives changes in mineral stoichiometry and distribution through weathering. (3) On landscapes experiencing little erosion, biology drives weathering during initial succession, whereas weathering drives biology over the long term. (4) In eroding landscapes, weathering-front advance at depth is coupled to surface denudation via biotic processes. (5) Biology shapes the topography of the Critical Zone. (6) The impact of climate forcing on denudation rates in natural systems can be predicted from models incorporating biogeochemical reaction rates and geomorphological transport laws. (7) Rising global temperatures will increase carbon losses from the Critical Zone. (8) Rising atmospheric P(CO2) will increase rates and extents of mineral weathering in soils. (9) Riverine solute fluxes will respond to changes in climate primarily due to changes in water fluxes and secondarily through changes in biologically mediated weathering. (10) Land use change will impact Critical Zone processes and exports more than climate change. (11) In many severely altered settings, restoration of hydrological processes is possible in decades or less, whereas restoration of biodiversity and biogeochemical processes requires longer timescales. (12) Biogeochemical properties impart thresholds or tipping points beyond which rapid and irreversible losses of ecosystem health, function, and services can occur.
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