Ohio is typical among the Midwestern and Eastern United States with high levels of water pollutants, the main sources being from agriculture. In this study, we used a digital elevation model in conjunction with hydrological indices to determine the role of landscape complexity affecting the spatial and temporal variation in pollutant levels, in one of the most impaired headwater streams in Ohio. More than eighty five percent of the study area is dominated by agriculture. Spatial distribution of slope (S), altitude and wetness index along with other watershed parameters such as flow direction, flow accumulation, stream networks, flow stream orders and erosion index were used within a Geographic Information Systems framework to quantify variation in nitrate and phosphate loads to headwater streams. Stream monitoring data for nutrient loads were used to correlate the observed spatial and temporal patterns with hydrological parameters using multiple linear regressions. Results from the wetness index calculated from a digital elevation model suggested a range of 0.10–16.39, with more than 35% having values less than 4.0. A Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) predicted soil loss in the range of 0.01–4.0 t/ha/yr. Nitrate nitrogen levels in the study area paralleled precipitation patterns over time, with higher nitrate levels corresponding to high precipitation. Atmospheric deposition through precipitation could explain approximately 35% of total nitrate levels observed in streams. Among the different topographic variables and hydrological indices, results from the step-wise multiple regression suggested the following best predictors, (1) elevation range and upstream flow length for nitrate, (2) flow direction and upstream flow length for ammonia-nitrogen and slope, and (3) elevation range for phosphate levels. Differences in the landscape models observed for nitrate, phosphate and ammonia-nitrogen in the surface waters were attributed partly to differences in the chemical activity and source strengths of the different forms of these nutrients through agricultural management practices. The results identify geomorphologic and landscape characteristics that influence pollutant levels in the study area.
Environmental Monitoring and Assessment – Springer Journals
Published: Jan 1, 2005
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