Physical and biological controls on trace gas fluxes in semi-arid urban ephemeral waterways

Erika L. Gallo, Kathleen A. Lohse, Christopher M. Ferlin, Thomas Meixner, Paul D. Brooks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Rapid increases in human population and land transformation in arid and semi-arid regions are altering water, carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycles, yet little is known about how urban ephemeral stream channels in these regions affect biogeochemistry and trace gas fluxes. To address these knowledge gaps, we measured carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), and methane (CH4) before and after soil wetting in 16 ephemeral stream channels that vary in soil texture and organic matter in Tucson, AZ. Fluxes of CO2 and N2O immediately following wetting were among the highest ever published (up to 1,588 mg C m−2 h−1 and 3,121 μg N m−2 h−1). Mean post-wetting CO2 and N2O fluxes were significantly higher in the loam and sandy loam channels (286 and 194 mg C m−2 h−1; 168 and 187 μg N m−2 h−1) than in the sand channels (45 mg C m−2 h−1 and 7 μg N m−2 h−1). Factor analyses show that the effect of soil moisture, soil C and soil N on trace gas fluxes varied with soil texture. In the coarser sandy sites, trace gas fluxes were primarily controlled by soil moisture via physical displacement of soil gases and by organic soil C and N limitations on biotic processes. In the finer sandy loam sites trace gas fluxes and N-processing were primarily limited by soil moisture, soil organic C and soil N resources. In the loam sites, finer soil texture and higher soil organic C and N enhance soil moisture retention allowing for more biologically favorable antecedent conditions. Variable redox states appeared to develop in the finer textured soils resulting in wide ranging trace gas flux rates following wetting. These findings indicate that urban ephemeral channels are biogeochemical hotspots that can have a profound impact on urban C and N biogeochemical cycling pathways and subsequently alter the quality of localized water resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-207
Number of pages19
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 1 2014


  • Carbon
  • Methane
  • Nitrogen
  • Semi-arid
  • Trace gas flux
  • Urban stream

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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