Temporal variation of nitrate and phosphate transport in headwater catchments: The hydrological controls and land use alteration

T. Y. Lee, J. C. Huang*, S. J. Kao, C. P. Tung

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Oceania rivers are hotspots of DIN (dissolved inorganic nitrogen) and DIP (dissolved inorganic phosphorus) transport due to humid/warm climate, typhoon-induced episodic rainfall and high tectonic activity that create an environment favorable for high/rapid runoff and soil erosion. In spite of its uniqueness, effects of hydrologic controls and land use on the transport behaviors of DIN and DIP are rarely documented. A 2 yr monitoring study for DIN and DIP from three headwater catchments with different cultivation gradient (0 To 8.9%) was implemented during a ~ 3 day interval with an additional monitoring campaign at a 3 h interval during typhoon periods. Results showed the DIN yields in the pristine, moderately cultivated (2.7%), and intensively cultivated (8.9%) watersheds were 8.3, 26, and 37 kg N ha-1 yr-1, respectively. For the DIP yields, they were 0.36, 0.35, and 0.56 kg P ha -1 yr-1, respectively. Higher year-round DIN concentrations and five times larger in DIN yields in intensively cultivated watersheds indicate DIN is more sensitive to land use changes. The high background DIN yield from the relatively pristine watershed was likely due to high atmospheric nitrogen deposition and large subterranean N pool. The correlations between runoff and concentration reveals that typhoon floods purge out more DIN from the subterranean reservoir, i.e., soil, by contrast, runoff washes off surface soil resulting in higher suspended sediment with higher DIP. Collectively, typhoon runoff contributes 20-70% and 47-80%, respectively, to the annual DIN and DIP exports. The DIN yield to DIP yield ratio varied from 97 to 410, which is higher than the global mean of ~ 18. Such a high ratio indicates a P-limiting condition in stream and the downstream aquatic environment. Based on our field observation, we constructed a conceptual model illustrating different remobilization mechanisms for DIN and DIP from headwaters in a mountainous river, which is analogous to typical Oceania rivers and the headwater of large rivers in similar climate zones. Our study advanced our understanding about the role of cyclones, which exert hydrological control, and land use on nutrient export in the Oceania region, benefiting watershed management under the context of climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2617-2632
Number of pages16
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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