Role of soil freezing events in interannual patterns of stream chemistry at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, New Hampshire

Ross D. Fitzhugh, Gene E. Likens, Charles T Driscoll, Myron J. Mitchell, Peter M. Groffman, Timothy J. Fahey, Janet P. Hardy

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Soil freezing is a disturbance of the below ground environment, potentially resulting in increased losses of NO3- and surface water acidification. Here, we report the effects of soil freezing on interannual variation in stream chemistry at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, New Hampshire. Data from 1970 to 1997 of soil frost depth, snow cover, precipitation, air temperature, and stream discharge and chemistry were used in a stepwise linear regression model to select the variables that best predicted deviations of annual stream concentrations from 4-year running averages. Variables quantifying soil freezing severity were selected as significant predictors of short-term fluctuations in stream K+, NO3-, Ca2+, and Mg2+ concentrations from 1970 to 1989, explaining 59 and 47% of the short-term variability in K+ and NO3-, respectively. Fine-root mortality and disturbance of root-soil-microbe interactions, with subsequent effects on decomposition and nutrient uptake, likely contributed to the mobilization of K+ and NO3- to streamwater following severe soil freezing events. The relationship between soil freezing and stream chemistry, however, weakened during the period 1990-1997. Because soil freezing has had inconsistent effects on stream chemistry during the period 1970-1997, it is unclear whether future changes in the frequency, duration, and depth of soil freezing events as the result of changes in the snow cover regime under a warmer climate will have significant impacts on the losses of NO3- and nutrient-base cations from temperate northern ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1575-1580
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 15 2003


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Environmental Engineering

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