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Hysteresis analysis of nitrate dynamics in the Neuse River, NC

Baker, Evan B., Showers, William J.
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.652 pp. 889-899
acidification, anthropogenic activities, biodiversity, environmental factors, eutrophication, freshwater, hysteresis, monitoring, nitrates, nutrients, regression analysis, rivers, seasonal variation, sediments, soil quality, soil water, storms, subsurface flow, summer, terrestrial ecosystems, turbidity, water quality, watersheds, North Carolina
Anthropogenic activities have caused N saturation in many terrestrial ecosystems. The transfer of nutrients and sediments to freshwater environments has resulted in water quality impairments including eutrophication, increased turbidity, ecosystem acidification, and loss of biodiversity. Storm events account for the transport of a large proportion of nutrients and sediments found in watersheds on an annual basis. To implement effective water-quality management strategies, the importance of surface and subsurface flow paths during storm events and low flow conditions need to be quantified. The increased availability of optical in-situ sensors makes high-frequency monitoring of catchment fluxes practical. In this study, we present a high-resolution nitrate monitoring record over a 10-year period in the Neuse River Basin near Clayton, North Carolina. The relationship between discharge and nitrate concentration for 365 storm events are categorized into hysteresis classes that indicate different transport mechanisms into the river. Storm events over the entire period of this study are divided between clockwise, counter-clockwise, and complex hysteresis patterns, indicating multiple nitrate flow paths during different seasons and years. Logistic regression of a suite of environmental variables demonstrates that antecedent soil moisture is a significant factor in determining the storm hysteresis class, with the odds of counter-clockwise hysteresis increasing by 10.3% for every 1 percentage point increase in the soil moisture. There is also an overlying seasonal effect, which indicates that dry soil conditions and frequent small storms during summer leads to greater nitrate transport on the rising limb, in contrast to slower, groundwater-driven inputs during the rest of the year.