Elemental properties, hydrology, and biology interact to shape concentration-discharge curves for carbon, nutrients, sediment, and major ions

Abstract : To investigate the prevalence and cause of concentration-discharge (C-Q) relationships for carbon, nutrients, major ions, and particulates, we analyzed 40 years of water quality data from 293 monitoring stations in France. Catchments drained diverse landscapes and ranged from 50 to 110,000 km2, together covering nearly half of France. To test for differences during low and high flows, we calculated independent C-Q slopes above and below the median discharge. We found that 84% of all catchment-element combinations were chemodynamic for at least half of the hydrograph and 60% of combinations showed nonlinear C-Q curves. Only two or three of the nine possible C-Q modalities were manifest for each parameter, and these modalities were stable through time, suggesting that intrinsic and extrinsic elemental properties (e.g., solubility, reactivity, and source dynamics) set basic C-Q templates for each parameter, which are secondarily influenced by biological activity during low flows, and the interaction between hydrology and catchment characteristics at high flows. Several patterns challenged current C-Q views, including low-flow chemostasis for TSS in 66% of catchments, low-flow biological mediation of math formula in 71% of catchments, and positive C-Q for dissolved organic carbon independent of catchment size in 80% of catchments. Efforts to reduce nutrient loading decreased phosphorus concentration and altered C-Q curves, but math formula continued to increase. While C-Q segmentation requires more data than a single analysis, the prevalence of nonlinear C-Q slopes demonstrates the potential information loss associated with linear or monotonic analysis of C-Q relationships, and conversely, the value of long-term monitoring.
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Florentina Moatar, Benjamin W. Abbott, Camille Minaudo, Florence Curie, Gilles Pinay. Elemental properties, hydrology, and biology interact to shape concentration-discharge curves for carbon, nutrients, sediment, and major ions. Water Resources Research, American Geophysical Union, 2017, 53 (2), pp.1270-1287. ⟨10.1002/2016WR019635⟩. ⟨hal-01507692⟩

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