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Factors influencing the release of dissolved organic carbon and dissolved forms of nitrogen from a small upland headwater during autumn runoff events

This paper asesses the relative importance of the principal factors influencing the release of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and dissolved forms of nitrogen (N) from a small upland headwater (the Birnie Burn at Glensaugh) during a sequence of autumn runoff events.
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© John Wiley
& Sons, Ltd.

Cooper, R., Thoss, V. and Watson, H. (2007), Factors influencing the release of dissolved organic carbon and dissolved forms of nitrogen from a small upland headwater during autumn runoff events. Hydrol. Process., 21: 622–633. doi: 10.1002/hyp.6261

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We identify and assess the relative importance of the principal factors influencing the release of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and dissolved forms of nitrogen (N) from a small upland headwater dominated by podzolic soils during a sequence of autumn runoff events. We achieve this by subjecting high-resolution hydrometeorological and hydrochemical data to an R-mode principal component factor analysis and a stepwise multivariate regression analysis. We find that the release of DOC and N is influenced by four principal factors, namely event magnitude, soil water flow through the Bs horizon, the length of time since the soil profile was last flushed, and rewetting of the H horizon. The release of DOC and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) is most strongly influenced by the combination of event magnitude and soil water flow through the Bs horizon, and to a lesser extent by the length of time since the soil profile was last flushed. Rewetting of the H horizon also influences the release of DOC, but this is not the case for DON. The release of nitrate (NO3-N) is most strongly influenced by the combination of the length of time since the soil profile was last flushed and rewetting of the H horizon, and to a lesser extent by event magnitude. Soil water flow through the Bs horizon does not influence the release of NO3-N. We argue that the mechanisms by which the above factors influence the release of DOC and N are probably strongly associated with moisture-dependent biological activity, which governs the turnover of organic matter in the soil and limits the availability of NO3-N in the soil for leaching. We conclude that the release of DOC and N from upland headwaters dominated by podzolic soils is largely controlled by the variable interaction of hydrometeorological factors and moisture-dependent biological processes, and that a shift in climate towards drier summers and wetter winters may result in the release of DOC and N becoming increasingly variable and more episodic in the future. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.