Responses of stream nitrate and DOC loadings to hydrological forcing and climate change in an upland forest of the northeastern United States

Stephen D. Sebestyen, Elizabeth W. Boyer, James B. Shanley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


In coming decades, higher annual temperatures, increased growing season length, and increased dormant season precipitation are expected across the northeastern United States in response to anthropogenic forcing of global climate. We synthesized long-term stream hydrochemical data from the Sleepers River Research Watershed in Vermont, United States, to explore the relationship of catchment wetness to stream nitrate and DOC loadings. We modeled changes in growing season length and precipitation patterns to simulate future climate scenarios and to assess how stream nutrient loadings respond to climate change. Model results for the 2070-2099 time period suggest that stream nutrient loadings during both the dormant and growing seasons will respond to climate change. During a warmer climate, growing season stream fluxes (runoff+20%, nitrate +57%, and DOC +58%) increase as more precipitation (+28%) and quick flow (+39%) occur during a longer growing season (+43 days). During the dormant season, stream water and nutrient loadings decrease. Net annual stream runoff (+8%) and DOC loading (+9%) increases are commensurate with the magnitude of the average increase of net annual precipitation (+7%). Net annual stream water and DOC loadings are primarily affected by increased dormant season precipitation. In contrast, decreased annual loading of stream nitrate (-2%) reflects a larger effect of growing season controls on stream nitrate and the effects of lengthened growing seasons in a warmer climate. Our findings suggest that leaching of nitrate and DOC from catchment soils will be affected by anthropogenic climate forcing, thereby affecting the timing and magnitude of annual stream loadings in the northeastern United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberG02002
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 28 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Materials Chemistry
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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