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Carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus accumulation in floodplains of Atlantic Coastal Plain rivers, USA

January 1, 2005

Net nutrient accumulation rates were measured in riverine floodplains of the Atlantic Coastal Plain in Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, USA. The floodplains were located in watersheds with different land use and included two sites on the Chickahominy River (urban), one site on the Mattaponi River (forested), and five sites on the Pocomoke River (agricultural). The Pocomoke River floodplains lie along reaches with natural hydrogeomorphology and on reaches with restricted flooding due to channelization and levees. A network of feldspar clay marker horizons was placed on the sediment surface of each floodplain site 3–6 years prior to sampling. Sediment cores were collected from the material deposited over the feldspar clay pads. This overlying sediment was separated from the clay layer and then dried, weighed, and analyzed for its total carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) content.

Mean C accumulation rates ranged from 61 to 212 g·m−2·yr−1, N accumulation rates ranged from 3.5 to 13.4 g·m−2·yr−1, and P accumulation rates ranged from 0.2 to 4.1 g·m−2·yr−1 among the eight floodplains. Patterns of intersite variation in mineral sediment and P accumulation rates were similar to each other, as was variation in organic sediment and C and N accumulation rates. The greatest sediment and C, N, and P accumulation rates were observed on Chickahominy River floodplains downstream from the growing metropolitan area of Richmond, Virginia. Nutrient accumulation rates were lowest on Pocomoke River floodplains that have been hydraulically disconnected from the main channel by channelization and levees. Sediment P concentrations and P accumulation rates were much greater on the hydraulically connected floodplain immediately downstream of the limit of channelization and dense chicken agriculture of the upper Pocomoke River watershed. These findings indicate that (1) watershed land use has a large effect on sediment and nutrient retention in floodplains, and (2) limiting the hydraulic connectivity between river channels and floodplains minimizes material retention by floodplains in fluvial hydroscapes.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2005
Title Carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus accumulation in floodplains of Atlantic Coastal Plain rivers, USA
DOI 10.1890/04-1677
Authors Gregory B. Noe, Cliff Hupp
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Applications
Index ID 70029583
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Research Program - Eastern Branch