Institute of Ecosystem Studies

2007 BES Annual Meeting Presentation and Poster Abstracts

Patterns of headwater stream burial due to urbanization in the mid-Atlantic U.S.
Elmore, Andrew
Co-Authors: Andrew J. Elmore and Sujay S. Kaushal
Abstract: Headwater streams provide important ecosystem services such as clean drinking water, habitat for aquatic life, and increased processing and uptake of nutrients, which can reduce delivery of nitrogen and phosphorus to downstream coastal waters. Despite their importance to ecosystem functioning, very little work has addressed the extent to which headwater streams are buried beneath the land surface during urbanization. We measured the occurrence of stream burial within a major tributary to the Chesapeake Bay in eastern Maryland for streams with catchments ranging from 10 ha to 104 ha. Our methods involved identifying where streams should be using hydrologic modeling and then calibrating a 30m impervious surface product using high-resolution air photography to build a stream channel decision tree classification. We find that 20% of all streams are buried, with streams exhibiting 19% burial rates in low-residential and suburban areas outside Baltimore City. Smaller headwater streams are universally buried more extensively than larger streams, and this difference increases with urbanization intensity. Within densely urbanized Baltimore City, 66% of all streams and 70% of streams in catchments smaller than 260ha are buried, which is similar to the total fraction of developed land.