Science Serving Maryland's Coasts

Research Publications: UM-SG-RS-2012-20


Phosphorus export across an urban to rural gradient in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.




Duan, S; Kaushal, SS; Groffman, PM; Band, LE; Belt, KT


Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences 117




Watershed export of phosphorus (P) from anthropogenic sources has contributed to eutrophication in freshwater and coastal ecosystems. We explore impacts of watershed urbanization on the magnitude and export flow distribution of P along an urban-rural gradient in eight watersheds monitored as part of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study Long-Term Ecological Research site. Exports of soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) and total P (TP) were lowest in small watersheds with forest and low-density residential land use (2.8-3.1 kg-1 km-2 yr-1). In contrast, SRP and TP exports increased with watershed impervious surface coverage and reached highest values in a small urban watershed (24.5-83.7 kg-1 km-2 yr-1). Along the Gwynns Falls, a larger watershed with mixed land use, the greatest proportion of SRP (68%) and TP (75%) was contributed from the lower watershed, where urban areas were the dominant land use. Load duration curve analysis showed that increasing urbanization in watersheds was associated with shifts in P export to high-flow conditions (>2 mm d-1). SRP concentrations during low-flow conditions at urban headwater sites were highest during summer and lowest during winter. This seasonal pattern was consistent with sediment incubation experiments showing that SRP release from sediments was temperature dependent. Our results suggest that shifts in streamflow and alterations in water temperatures owing to urbanization and climate can influence stream water P concentrations and P export from urban watersheds.

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