Transit times are hypothesized to influence catchment sensitivity to atmospheric deposition of acidity and nitrogen (N) because they help determine the amount of time available for infiltrating precipitation to interact with catchment soil and biota. Transit time metrics, including fraction of young water (Fyw) and mean transit time (MTT), were calculated for 11 headwater catchments in mountains of the western United States based on differences in the amplitude of the seasonal signal of δ18O in streamflow and precipitation. Results were statistically compared with catchment characteristics to elucidate controlling mechanisms. Transit times also were compared with stream solute concentrations to test the hypothesis that transit times are a primary influence on weathering rates and biological assimilation of atmospherically deposited N. Results indicate that transit times in the study catchments are strongly related to soil, vegetation, and topographic characteristics, with barren terrain (bare rock and talus) and steep slopes linked to high Fyw and short MTT, whereas forest soil (hydrogroup B) was linked to low Fyw and greater MTT. Concentrations of silicate weathering products (Na+ and Si) were negatively related to Fyw and barren terrain, and positively related to MTT and forest soil, supporting the concept that weathering fluxes and buffering capacity tend to be low in alpine areas due to short transit times. Nitrate concentrations were positively related to N deposition, catchment slope, and barren terrain, and negatively related to forest, indicating that hydrologic and/or biogeochemical processes associated with steep slopes limit uptake of atmospherically deposited N by biota. Interannual and seasonal variability in transit times and source water contributions in the study catchments was substantial, reflecting the influence of strong temporal variations in snowmelt inputs in high‐elevation catchments of the western United States. Results from this study confirm that short transit times in these areas are a key reason they are highly sensitive to atmospheric pollution and climate change.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Linking transit times to catchment sensitivity to atmospheric deposition of acidity and nitrogen in mountains of the western United States|
|Series title||Hydrological Processes|
|Contributing office(s)||Colorado Water Science Center|