Baltimore Ecosystem Study Institute of Ecosystem Studies

2010 BES Annual Meeting Presentation and Poster Abstracts

Long-term (10 year) trends in the chemistry of urban streams
Groffman, Peter
Co-Authors: Lawrence E. Band, Kenneth T. Belt, Sujay S. Kaushal, Gary T. Fisher

Abstract: Weekly sampling of eight streams in the Baltimore metropolitan area has been carried out since 1998 as part of the NSF funded Baltimore urban Long-Term Ecological Research (BES LTER) project. The BES watersheds include 100% forested and agricultural catchments and developed watersheds ranging from very low-density (<1% impervious surface) suburban watersheds serviced by septic systems to more dense (>40% impervious surface) urban watersheds. Stream discharge is continuously monitored at these sites by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Stream samples are collected weekly regardless of flow conditions (no bias towards storm versus baseflow) and analyzed for nitrate, total nitrogen (N), phosphate, total phosphorus (P), chloride and sulfate. Ten-year analysis of the BES long-term study sites reveals several interesting spatial and temporal patterns. For N, the highest concentrations were found in the agricultural and suburban watersheds, followed by the urban sites, and finally by the forested site. Organic N was most important as a proportion of total N in the urban and forested sites. Spatial patterns in P were more complex, with urban, suburban and agricultural sites having the highest values. Over the ten year record, many sites showed significant changes in N concentrations, but few sites showed consistent patterns in P. The patterns in N were quite variable however, with some sites showing striking increases, while others showed striking decreases. Most (7 of 8) sites showed a decrease in the proportion of organic N, the trend was significant at 4 of the sites. There were few trends in the proportion of organic P. Discharge was a significant driver of variation in N and P export at some (mostly smaller watersheds) sites, for some solutes, but was not an overwhelmingly important driver of temporal variation. Key factors driving long-term patterns include climate variation and efforts to improve urban stream water quality by municipal authorities.