Spatial differences in hydrologic characteristics and water chemistry of a temperate coastal plain peatland: The Great Dismal Swamp, USA

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Abstract

Spatial differences in hydrologic processes and geochemistry across forested peatlands control the response of the wetland-community species and resiliency to natural and anthropogenic disturbances. Knowing these controls is essential to effectively managing peatlands as resilient wetland habitats. The Great Dismal Swamp is a 45,325 hectare peatland in the Atlantic Coastal Plain of Virginia and North Carolina, USA, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The existing forest-species distribution is a product of timber harvesting, hydrologic alteration by canal and road construction, and wildfires. Since 2009, studies of hydrologic and geochemical controls have expanded knowledge of groundwater flow paths, water chemistry, response to precipitation events, and characteristics of the peat. Dominant hydrologic and geochemical controls include (1) the gradual slope in land surface, (2) vertical differences in the hydraulic characteristics of the peat, (3) the proximity of lateral groundwater and small stream inflows from uplands, (4) the presence of an extensive canal and road network, and (5) small, adjustable-height dams on the canals. Although upland sources provide some surface water and lateral groundwater inflow to western parts of the swamp, direct groundwater recharge by precipitation is the major source of water throughout the swamp and the only source in many areas. Additionally, the proximity and type of upland water sources affect water levels and nutrient concentrations in canal water and groundwater. Where streams are a dominant upland source, variations in groundwater levels and nutrient concentrations are greater than where recharge by precipitation is the primary water source. Where upland groundwater is a dominant source, water levels are more stable. Because the species distribution of forest communities in the Swamp is strongly influenced by these controls, swamp managers are beginning to incorporate this knowledge into forest, water, and fire management plans.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Title Spatial differences in hydrologic characteristics and water chemistry of a temperate coastal plain peatland: The Great Dismal Swamp, USA
Year Published 2016
Language English
Contributing office(s) Virginia Water Science Center
Larger Work Type Conference Paper
Larger Work Subtype Conference Paper
Larger Work Title Proceedings of the 15th International Peat Congress 2016
Conference Title 15th International Peat Congress 2016: Peatlands in harmony - Agriculture, industry, and nature
Conference Location Sarawak, Malaysia
Conference Date August 15-19, 2016
Country United States
State North Carolina, Virginia
Other Geospatial Great Dismal Swamp