Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2012WA346B

Climate change, land-water transfer, and in-stream fate of nitrogen in an agricultural setting

Institute: Washington
Year Established: 2011 Start Date: 2012-03-01 End Date: 2013-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $54,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $108,930

Principal Investigators: Cailin Orr, John Harrison

Abstract: In recent decades, climate change has significantly altered Washington precipitation and streamflow, and climate effects on hydrologic fluxes are predicted to intensify in coming decades. Chief among the observed and projected, climate-related hydrologic shifts are increases in autumn precipitation, coupled with increases in the frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation and runoff events. These changes, along with higher predicted winter temperatures (leading to more rain, less snow), are likely to intensify pulsed hydrologic events that carry solutes of concern like dissolved organic matter (DOM) and nitrate into streams. The effects of such changes on water quality are certain to be important but are currently poorly understood. It is in this context that we propose work that would enhance the ability of scientists, policy makers and stakeholders to understand, predict, respond to and/or mitigate climate change impacts on water quality. Specifically, we propose to use WSU’s Cook Agronomy Farm as a study system to: 1) understand how hydrologic variability affects a) nitrate and DOM transport from agricultural fields to surface water and b) in-stream fate of nitrogen, and 2) use this information to develop, apply, test, and iteratively refine a model that utilizes a dynamic representation of hydrologic flow paths and organic matter source pools to predict terrestrial-to-aquatic nitrate and DOM transport, under current and anticipated future climate. We anticipate that this work will directly enhance our ability to understand the influence of climate change on water quality. As such, this study addresses one of the State of Washington’s research priorities (given in the 104B program’s request for proposals). Furthermore, this project will clarify the relationship between terrestrial processes and aquatic nutrient delivery, thereby enhancing understanding of riparian ecosystem function related to water quantity/quality, another of Washington’s stated priorities. In addition, it will lead to the development and implementation of a new model capable of predicting DOM and nitrate export from an agricultural system as a function of hydrologic flow path, soil DOC and DON content. The proposed work also addresses each of the 104B program’s training and outreach goals in that funding would support the entry of two junior faculty members into the field of water resources, facilitate the training and education of future scientists (two graduate students), provide material for undergraduate and graduate classes, supplement an existing USDA database, and complement other ongoing work. This project will also provide data to support the development of larger proposals to federal funding agencies and programs such as NSF Hydrologic Sciences, USDA AFRI-Natural Resources, NSF Ecosystems, and NSF CAREER.