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Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
(608) 231-9318
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Urban Natural Resources Stewardship

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Organic Matter Fluxes in Urban Catchments and Streams

Research Issue

[photo:] Baisman Run weir, Baltimore, MD.   Measuring stream flowIn urban areas, leaf litter represents an important “gutter subsidy” to stream food webs and also provides habitat for aquatic biota.  It likely affects other pollutants (e.g., binding metals, disinfection by-products) and so is a key component of the aquatic ecosystem.  Despite this, an unsubstantiated general feeling that the flashy hydrology of urban streams has resulted in systems devoid of organic matter, and so little organic matter research has been done.

Our Research

[photo:] Hydrologist calibrating ISCO automated storm samplersThese studies of organic matter are focused on the stream network of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study LTER, and address leaf breakdown rates, food webs, and transport processes.  In-situ leaf breakdown experiments measure how long litter might persist in urban streams, and the effects of hydrologic drivers on coarse, fine particulate (CPOM, FPOM/VSS, TSS) and dissolved (DOC, POC) organic matter fluxes are investigated through baseline and stormwater sampling at USGS stream gauges.

Expected Outcomes

Knowledge gained will be used to put urban organic matter flux data into a stream ecosystem structure and function context and will facilitate both urban forestry and stream restoration management efforts.  It will also be used in related research in Baltimore that addresses the supply of carbon for increasing beneficial microbial activity (e.g., removal of nitrogen from water via denitrification) and its retention as part of stream restoration projects. Work will also be done on the role of organic matter in pollutant fate and transport by virtue of its ability to bind these constituents (e.g., heavy metals), reducing their toxicity to aquatic biota.

Research Results

These results suggest that urban catchments, with their altered drainage pathways and strong terrestrial-aquatic linkages, can transport appreciable quantities of dissolved and particulate organic matter.  This has implications for aquatic food webs and productivity, and for pollutant fates.  It also suggests that restoration might play a role in facilitating the retention of this OM to the advantage of the aquatic community.

A number of publications are in production.

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Kenneth Belt, US Forest Service, Northern Research Station Hydrologist
  • Dr. S. Kaushal, UMCES CBL Assistant Professor,
  • Dr. C. Swan, UMBC GES Assistant Professor,
  • Dr. R. Pouyat, US Forest Service, Washington Office Bioclimatologist

Research Partners

  • Dr. C. Welty, UMBC CUERE Director,
  • Dr. A. Miller, UMBC GES,
  • W. Stack, Baltimore City DPW, USGS MD Water Science Center.

Partner Links

Last Modified: 10/03/2019