How landscape heterogeneity governs stream water concentration-discharge behavior in carbonate terrains (Konza Prairie, USA)

TitleHow landscape heterogeneity governs stream water concentration-discharge behavior in carbonate terrains (Konza Prairie, USA)
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsSullivan, PL, Stops, MW, Macpherson, GL, Li, L, Hirmas, DR, Dodds, WK
JournalChemical Geology
Accession NumberKNZ001920
KeywordsCritical zone, End member mixing analysis, Karst, woody encroachment

Mounting evidence suggests ecosystem changes that alter subsurface water fluxes and carbon dioxide concentrations in carbonate terrains may drive measurable changes in chemical weathering rates, stream water chemistry, and flow path evolution on human timescales. We test this idea by exploring if the encroachment of woody vegetation into grasslands in a carbonate terrain landscape at the Konza Prairie (KS, USA) has resulted in differences in landscape-stream connectivity and, thus, the behavior of stream water solutes. Woody encroachment (up to 60% cover) at Konza has been observed on watersheds, particularly those that experience a fire return interval of four years or greater. We focus on three headwater catchments (two grassland and one woody-encroached) and a downstream confluence, and analyze stream water discharge and chemistry (major anions, cations, and dissolved nutrients) measured from 2015 to 2016.

We observe that the woody-encroached watershed exhibits a greater area-normalized solute flux and greater degree of chemodynamic behavior for most geogenic species compared to the less encroached grassland watersheds. The downstream confluence exhibits the most chemostatic behavior for these same solutes compared to the low order watersheds. We interpret the chemodynamic behavior of the woody-encroached watersheds to arise from a greater diversity of flow paths and solute sources that contribute to this stream. End member mixing analysis (EMMA) supports this hypothesis but also indicates a possible “missing” end member which we interpret to be solutes likely derived from clay weathering along limestone-mudstone boundaries. We invoke differences in rooting systems between grass and woody species to explain the differences in flow paths and solute generation between these headwater sites given that they sit adjacent to each other, dissect the same nearly horizontal (dip 0.1–0.21°NW) lithologic units, and experience the same climate. If these processes hold true at other sites, then the globally observed encroachment of woody vegetation into grasslands may deepen flow paths and enhance chemical weathering fluxes from ecosystems, and over long-time periods alter the trajectory of soil development and landscape evolution.