Science of The Total Environment
Climate change; Dust; Eutrophication; Mountain watershed; Phosphorus; Soil
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Total phosphorus (TP) concentrations have increased in many remote mountain waterbodies across the western United States, and reports of algal blooms in these systems have increased in frequency. Explanations for observed TP increases are uncertain, and typical landscape drivers, such as agricultural/urban runoff, are implausible. We investigated multiple atmospheric and terrestrial-P loading mechanisms to explain the observed decadal increase in TP, including a novel hypothesis that warming soils may lead to elevated P fluxes to receiving water bodies. Using northern Utah mountains ranges as a case study, we measured prospective inputs of total and bioavailable P via dust deposition. Terrestrial loading was evaluated through soil leaching experiments designed to simulate soil acidification and recovery, as well as observed decadal increases in soil temperatures and extended growing season. In the Uinta Mountains, dust-P flux appears to be one of the most plausible mechanisms for P increases where we estimated bioavailable dust-P loading ranged from 1.6 to 23.1 mg P m-2 yr-1. However, our results revealed that an increase of soil pH by 0.5 units could lead to a rise in leached P, ranging from 4.7 to 65 mg P m-2. Rising temperatures also showed the potential to increase soil P leaching; Observed average historical (~ +3 °C) and future (+2 °C) increases in temperature led to a prospective increase in leached P from 2 to 264 mg SRP m-2. While we found that pH shifts can mobilize significant amounts of P in some locations, we found no evidence of pH changes through time in the Uinta Mountains. However, summer soil temperatures increased at most locations. The mechanisms evaluated in this study can help explain the widespread observed increases in P across Western US lakes, but the mechanisms that dominate in any given region are likely to vary based on local to regional factors.
Scholz J, Brahney J. Evidence for multiple potential drivers of increased phosphorus in high-elevation lakes. Sci Total Environ. 2022 Jun 15;825:153939. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.153939. Epub 2022 Feb 18. PMID: 35189218.
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