Nitrogen input-output budgets for lake-containing watersheds in the Adirondack region of New York

Mari Ito, Myron J. Mitchell, Charles T. Driscoll, Karen M. Roy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The Adirondack region of New York is characterized by soils and surface waters that are sensitive to inputs of strong acids, receiving among the highest rates of atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition in the United States. Atmospheric N deposition to Adirondack ecosystems may contribute to the acidification of soils through losses of exchangeable basic cations and the acidification of surface waters in part due to increased mobility of nitrate (NO3 -). This response is particularly evident in watersheds that exhibit 'nitrogen saturation.' To evaluate the contribution of atmospheric N deposition to the N export and the capacity of lake-containing watersheds to remove, store, or release N, annual N input-output budgets were estimated for 52 lake-containing watersheds in the Adirondack region from 1998 to 2000. Wet N deposition was used as the N input and the lake N discharge loss was used as the N output based on modeled hydrology and measured monthly solute concentrations. Annual outputs were also estimated for dissolved organic carbon (DOC). Wet N deposition increased from the northeast to the southwest across the region. Lake N drainage losses, which exhibited a wider range of values than wet N deposition, did not show any distinctive spatial pattern, although there was some evidence of a relationship between wet N deposition and the lake N drainage loss. Wet N deposition was also related to the fraction of N removed or retained within the watersheds (i.e., the fraction of net N hydrologic flux relative to wet N deposition, calculated as [(wet N deposition minus lake N drainage loss)/wet N deposition]). In addition to wet N deposition, watershed attributes also had effects on the exports of NO3 -, ammonium (NH4 +), dissolved organic nitrogen (DON), and DOC, the DOC/DON export ratio, and the N flux removed or retained within the watersheds (i.e., net N hydrologic flux, calculated as [wet N deposition less lake N drainage loss]). Elevation was strongly related with the lake drainage losses of NO3 -, NH4 +, and DON, net NO3 - hydrologic flux (i.e., NO3 - deposition less NO3 - drainage loss), and the fraction of net NO3 - hydrologic flux, but not with the DOC drainage loss. Both DON and DOC drainage losses from the lakes increased with the proportion of watershed area occupied by wetlands, with a stronger relationship for DOC. The effects of wetlands and forest type on NO3 - flux were evident for the estimated NO3 - fluxes flowing from the watershed drainage area into the lakes, but were masked in the drainage losses flowing out of the lakes. The DOC/DON export ratios from the lake-containing watersheds were in general lower than those from forest floor leachates or streams in New England and were intermediate between the values of autochthonous and allochthonous dissolved organic matter (DOM) reported for various lakes. The DOC/DON ratios for seepage lakes were lower than those for drainage lakes. In-lake processes regulating N exports may include denitrification, planktonic depletion, degradation of DOM, and the contribution of autochthonous DOM and the influences of in-lake processes were also reflected in the relationships with hydraulic retention time. The N fluxes removed or stored within the lakes substantially varied among the lakes. Our analysis demonstrates that for these northern temperate lake-containing watershed ecosystems, many factors, including atmospheric N deposition, landscape features, hydrologic flowpaths, and retention in ponded waters, regulated the spatial patterns of net N hydrologic flux within the lake-containing watersheds and the loss of N solutes through drainage waters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)283-314
Number of pages32
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2005


  • Acid rain
  • Adirondack region
  • Atmospheric deposition
  • Budget analysis
  • Lakes
  • Nitrogen
  • Nitrogen retention
  • Watersheds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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