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Doctoral thesis2012Open access

Macronutrient cycling in surface waters : large-scale patterns and assessment of global change

Khalili, Maria


The levels and relative proportions of macronutrients set the conditions for life in surface waters. Man-made disturbances to macronutrient cycling have caused environmental problems such as eutrophication, acidification and global change. In this thesis, macronutrient cycling was studied by performing spatial and temporal large-scale studies of aquatic, terrestrial and atmospheric national monitoring data. Trophic status was found to have a profound impact on nitrate-nitrogen (NO₃-N) concentrations in surface waters. Lakes and streams of the same trophic status displayed opposite NO₃-N patterns. These findings are of great importance when dealing with environmental assessment on the landscape scale, and an awareness of these patterns may also facilitate the design of sampling programs. Trophic status also seems important for trends in total phosphorus (TP) and total organic carbon (TOC) concentrations in boreal and alpine catchments. A temporal study of TP and TOC concentrations showed decreases in nutrient-poor catchments and increases in more nutrient-rich surface waters. Different responses of terrestrial organic matter production and decomposition to temperature increases may be responsible for the observed patterns. Consequently, continued global warming may lead to a stronger polarization between the nutrient-poor northern and the more nutrient-rich southern catchments. Further studies showed that nutrient conditions in soils and surface waters were strongly affected by atmospheric deposition. By using large data-sets on nutrient content in soils and nutrient concentrations in lakes, it was found that carbon to nitrogen ratios (C:N) in the organic soil layer and in lakes increased from the southern to the northern parts of Sweden, resulting in a strong relationship between soil and lake water C:N. The strong relationship was primarily due to the high correlation between nitrogen (N) in organic soil layer and lake N. Large-scale variations in soil C content were not strongly linked to lake C concentrations whereas soil N seemed to leach in the form of NO₃-N to lakes. By calculating catchment soil, lake and river mouth C stocks, it was estimated that about 10 % of Sweden's total terrestrial net ecosystem production is transported through lakes annually. This indicates that the amount of C exported from soils is substantial and that boreal soils maybe less important as a C sink as previously thought. Furthermore, it was found that the colored portion of C was selectively lost and that the decrease in water color was dependent on water retention time. This implies that under conditions predicted in future climate scenarios of increased precipitation, water reaching the seas will be more colored than today. The results from this thesis highlight the importance of atmospheric N deposition and trophic status to macronutrient cycling in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.


nitrogen; carbon; phosphorus; lakes; streams; soil; atmospheric deposition; climate

Published in

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
2012, number: 2012:10
ISBN: 978-91-576-7694-8
Publisher: Institutionen för vatten och miljö, Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet

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