A new Yale-led study offers a new conceptual framework for understanding the biogeochemistry of watersheds. The framework combines hydrologic and biogeochemical theory to test well established concepts in watershed ecology.
The paper, published in the journal Ecology
, suggests that heavy weather events, though infrequent, cause an inordinate amount of organic material to bypass headwater systems, pushing them downstream into larger rivers, coastal waters, and inland basins.
This phenomenon can have profound ecological implications on the quality of water systems worldwide and the chemical processes that occur within them. Dissolved organic matter — a complex mix of compounds that leeches into waterways and gives rivers and streams their color — introduces nutrients and pollutants, influences the escape of carbon dioxide from the water, and can impact the amount of light that penetrates the water. That, in turn, can affect levels of phytoplankton, a major food source for many organisms.