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River geomorphology affects biogeochemical responses to hydrologic events in a large river ecosystem

July 13, 2023

Shifts in the frequency and intensity of high discharge events due to climate change may have important consequences for the hydrology and biogeochemistry of rivers. However, our understanding of event-scale biogeochemical dynamics in large rivers lags that of small streams. To fill this gap, we used high-frequency sensor data collected during four consecutive summers from a main channel and backwater site of the Upper Mississippi River. We identified high discharge events and calculated event concentration-discharge responses for both physical-chemical (nitrate, turbidity, and fluorescent dissolved organic matter) and biological (chlorophyll-a and cyanobacteria) constituents using metrics of hysteresis and slope. We found a range of responses across events, particularly for nitrate. Although fluorescent dissolved organic matter (FDOM) and turbidity exhibited more consistent responses across events, contrasting hysteresis metrics indicated that FDOM was flushed to the river from more distant sources than turbidity. Biological responses (chlorophyll a and cyanobacteria) differed more between sites than physical and chemical constituents. Lastly, we found that the event characteristics best explaining concentration responses differed between sites, with event magnitude more frequently related to responses in the main channel, and antecedent wetness conditions associated with response variation in the backwater. Our results indicate that event responses in large rivers are distinct across the diverse habitats and biogeochemical components of a large floodplain river, which has implications for local and downstream ecosystems as the climate shifts.

Publication Year 2023
Title River geomorphology affects biogeochemical responses to hydrologic events in a large river ecosystem
DOI 10.1029/2022WR033662
Authors Taryn Waite, Kathi Jo Jankowski, Denise Bruesewitz, Molly Van Appledorn, Megan Johnston, Jeffrey N. Houser, Douglas Baumann, Barbara Bennie
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Water Resources Research
Index ID 70247818
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center