Hydrology and landscape structure control subalpine catchment carbon export
Pacific, Vincent Jerald
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Carbon export from high elevation ecosystems is a critical component of the global carbon cycle. Ecosystems in northern latitudes have become the focus of much research due to their potential as large sinks of carbon in the atmosphere. However, there exists limited understanding of the controls of carbon export from complex mountain catchments due to strong spatial and temporal hydrologic variability, and large heterogeneity in landscape structure. The research presented in this dissertation investigates the control of hydrology and landscape structure and position on two major avenues of carbon loss from mountain watersheds: soil respiration and stream dissolved organic carbon (DOC) export. Measurements of soil respiration and its biophysical controls (soil water content, soil temperature, vegetation, soil organic matter, and soil physical properties) and stream and groundwater DOC dynamics are presented across three years and multiple riparian-hillslope transitions within a complex subalpine catchment in the northern Rocky Mountains, Montana. Variability in soil respiration was related to hydrologic dynamics through space and time and was strongly influenced by topography and landscape structure. Cumulative soil CO 2 efflux was significantly higher from wet riparian landscape positions compared to drier hillslope locations. Changes in hydrologic regimes (e.g. snowmelt and precipitation timing and magnitude) also impacted soil respiration. From a wet to a dry growing season, there were contrasting and disproportionate changes in cumulative growing season surface CO 2 efflux at wet and dry landscape positions. Stream DOC export was also influenced by landscape structure and hydrologic variability. The mobilization and delivery mechanisms of DOC from the soil to the stream were dependent upon the size of DOC source areas and the degree of hydrologic connectivity between the stream and the riparian and hillslope zones, which varied strongly across the landscape. This dissertation provides fundamental insight into the controls of hydrology and landscape structure on carbon export from complex mountain watersheds. The results of this research have large implications for the carbon source/sink status of high elevation mountain ecosystems, the influence of changing hydrologic regimes on soil respiration, and the use of landscape analysis to determine the locations of large source areas for carbon export.