Main content area

A method to estimate the impact of clear-cutting on nutrient concentrations in boreal headwater streams

Palviainen, Marjo, Finér, Leena, Laurén, Ari, Mattsson, Tuija, Högbom, Lars
Ambio 2015 v.44 no.6 pp. 521-531
carbon, clearcutting, data collection, nitrates, nitrogen content, nutrient content, nutrients, phosphates, phosphorus, pollution load, runoff, streams, surface water, temporal variation, water quality, watersheds, Finland, Sweden
Large-scale forestry operations, like clear-cutting, may impair surface water quality if not done with environmental considerations in mind. Catchment and country level estimates of nutrient loads from forestry are generally based on specific export values, i.e., changes in annual exports due to the implemented forestry operations expressed in kg ha⁻¹. We introduce here a specific concentration approach as a method to estimate the impact of clear-cutting on nutrient concentrations and export in headwater streams. This new method is potentially a more dynamic and flexible tool to estimate nutrient loads caused by forestry, because variation in annual runoff can be taken into account in load assessments. We combined water quality data from eight boreal headwater catchment pairs located in Finland and Sweden, where the effect of clear-cutting on stream water quality has been studied experimentally. Statistically significant specific concentration values could be produced for total nitrogen, nitrate, ammonium, and phosphate. The significant increases in the concentrations of these nutrients occurred between 2 and 6 years after clear-cutting. Significant specific concentration values could not be produced for total phosphorus and total organic carbon with the whole dataset, although in some single studies significant increases in their concentrations after clear-cutting were observed. The presented method enables taking into account variation in runoff, temporal dynamics of effects, and the proportional size of the treated area in load calculations. The number of existing studies considering large site-specific variation in responses to clear-cutting is small, and therefore further empirical studies are needed to improve predictive capabilities of the specific concentration values.