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Keywords:

  • eco-hydrology;
  • transient storage;
  • nitrogen spiralling;
  • fluvial geomorphology;
  • solute transport modelling;
  • land use

Abstract

The understanding of nutrient uptake in streams is impeded by a limited understanding of how geomorphic setting and flow regime interact with biogeochemical processing. This study investigated these interactions as they relate to transient storage and nitrate uptake in small agricultural and urban streams. Sites were selected across a gradient of channel conditions and management modifications and included three 180-m long geomorphically distinct reaches on each of two streams in north-central Colorado. The agricultural stream has been subject to historically variable cattle-grazing practices, and the urban stream exhibits various levels of stabilisation and planform alteration. Reach-scale geomorphic complexity was characterised using highly detailed surveys of channel morphology, substrate, hydraulics and habitat units. Breakthrough-curve modelling of conservative bromide (Br) and nonconservative nitrate (NO3) tracer injections characterised transient storage and nitrate uptake along each reach. Longitudinal roughness and flow depth were positively associated with transient storage, which was related to nitrate uptake, thus underscoring the importance of geomorphic influences on stream biogeochemical processes. In addition, changes in geomorphic characteristics due to temporal discharge variation led to complex responses in nitrate uptake. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.