Cumulative effects of atmospheric N deposition may increase N export from watersheds and contribute to the acidification of surface waters, but natural factors (such as forest productivity and soil drainage) that affect forest N cycling can also control watershed N export. To identify factors that are related to stream-water export of N, elevational gradients in atmospheric deposition and natural processes were evaluated in a steep, first-order watershed in the Catskill Mountains of New York, from 1991 to 1994. Atmospheric deposition of SO4/2-, and probably N, increased with increasing elevation within this watershed. Stream-water concentrations of SO4/2- increased with increasing elevation throughout the year, whereas stream-water concentrations of NO3/- decreased with increasing elevation during the winter and spring snowmelt period, and showed no relation with elevation during the growing season or the fall. Annual export of N in stream water for the overall watershed equaled 12% to 17% of the total atmospheric input on the basis of two methods of estimation. This percentage decreased with increasing elevation, from about 25% in the lowest subwatershed to 7% in the highest subwatershed; a probable result of an upslope increase in the thickness of the surface organic horizon, attributable to an elevational gradient in temperature that slows decomposition rates at upper elevations. Balsam fir stands, more prevalent at upper elevations than lower elevations, may also affect the gradient of subwatershed N export by altering nitrification rates in the soil. Variations in climate and vegetation must be considered to determine how future trends in atmospheric deposition will effect watershed export of nitrogen.
Additional publication details
Atmospheric deposition and watershed nitrogen export along an elevational gradient in the Catskill Mountains, New York