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Biogeochemistry and community ecology in a spring-fed urban river following a major earthquake

Wells, Naomi S., Clough, Tim J., Condron, Leo M., Baisden, W. Troy, Harding, Jon S., Dong, Y., Lewis, G.D., Lear, Gavin
Environmental pollution 2013 v.182 pp. 190-200
biofilm, biogeochemical cycles, community ecology, denitrification, disasters, dissolved oxygen, earthquakes, environmental impact, hydrochemistry, invertebrates, liquefaction, nitrogen, rivers, sediments, sewage, streams, waterways, New Zealand
In February 2011 a MW 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand inundated urban waterways with sediment from liquefaction and triggered sewage spills. The impacts of, and recovery from, this natural disaster on the stream biogeochemistry and biology were assessed over six months along a longitudinal impact gradient in an urban river. The impact of liquefaction was masked by earthquake triggered sewage spills (∼20,000 m3 day−1 entering the river for one month). Within 10 days of the earthquake dissolved oxygen in the lowest reaches was <1 mg l−1, in-stream denitrification accelerated (attenuating 40–80% of sewage nitrogen), microbial biofilm communities changed, and several benthic invertebrate taxa disappeared. Following sewage system repairs, the river recovered in a reverse cascade, and within six months there were no differences in water chemistry, nutrient cycling, or benthic communities between severely and minimally impacted reaches. This study highlights the importance of assessing environmental impact following urban natural disasters.