Biogeochemical budgets in a mediterranean catchment with high rates of atmospheric N deposition - Importance of scale and temporal asynchrony

Thomas Meixner, Mark Fenn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


In this study biogeochemical export in a set of catchments that vary from6 ha to almost 1500 ha is investigated. Studying catchments across this large range of scales enables us to investigate the scale dependence and fundamental processes controlling catchment biogeochemical export that would not have been possible with a more limited data set. The Devil Canyon catchment, in the San Bernardino Mountains, California, has some of the highest atmospheric N deposition rates in the world (40-90 kg ha -1 year -1 at the crest of the catchment). These high rates of deposition have translated into consistently high levels of NO 3- in some streams of the San Bernardino Mountains. However, the streams of the Devil Canyon catchment have widely varying dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) concentrations and export. These differences are also, to a more limited extent, present for dissolved organic carbon (DOC) but not in other dissolved species (Cl -, SO 2 4-, Ca 2+ and other weathering products). As catchment size increases DIN and DOC concentrations first increase until catchment area is~150 ha but then decrease as catchment scale increases beyond that size. The scale dependence ofDIN export implies that catchments at different spatial scales are at different degrees ofN saturation. The reason for this scale effect appears to be the dominance of flushing of DIN out of soil at small scales due to the temporal asynchrony between nutrient availability and biological N demand, the groundwater exfiltration of this flushed DIN at intermediate scales and the removal of this DIN from streamflow through in-stream processes and groundwater-surface water interaction at larger scales.While the particular scale effect observed here may not occur over the same range in catchment area in other ecosystems, it is likely that other ecosystems have similar scale dependant export for DIN and DOC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)331-356
Number of pages26
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2004


  • Catchment
  • Forested ecosystems
  • Hydrology
  • Mediterranean climate
  • Nitrogen deposition
  • Semi-arid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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