Riparian zone control on base cation concentration in boreal streams
Abstract. Riparian zones (RZ) are a major factor controlling water chemistry in forest streams. Base cations' (BC) concentrations, fluxes, and cycling in the RZ merit attention because a changing climate and increased forest harvesting could have negative consequences, including re-acidification, for boreal surface waters. We present a two-year study of BC and silica (Si) flow-weighted concentrations from 13 RZ and 14 streams in different landscape elements of a boreal catchment in northern Sweden. The spatial variation in BC and Si dynamics in both RZ and streams was explained by differences in landscape element type, with highest concentrations in silty sediments and lowest concentrations in peat-dominated wetland areas. Temporal stability in BC and Si concentrations in riparian soil water, remarkably stable Mg/Ca ratios, and homogeneous mineralogy suggest that patterns found in the RZ are a result of a distinct mineralogical upslope signal in groundwater. Stream water Mg/Ca ratios indicate that the signal is subsequently maintained in the streams. Flow-weighted concentrations of Ca, Mg, and Na in headwater streams were represented by the corresponding concentrations in the RZ, which were estimated using the Riparian Flow-Concentration Integration Model (RIM) approach. Stream and RZ flow-weighted concentrations differed for K and Si, suggesting a stronger biogeochemical influence on these elements, including K recirculation by vegetation and retention of Si within the RZ. Potential increases in groundwater levels linked to forest harvesting or changes in precipitation regimes would tend to reduce BC concentrations from RZ to streams, potentially leading to episodic acidification.