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Sustained biogeochemical impacts of wildfire in a mountain lake catchment

Evans, CD; Malcolm, IC; Shilland, EM; Rose, NL; Turner, SD; Crilly, A; Norris, D; ... Monteith, DT; + view all (2016) Sustained biogeochemical impacts of wildfire in a mountain lake catchment. Ecosystems Green open access

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Abstract

Wild and prescribed fires can cause severe deterioration in water quality, including increases in sediment, nutrients and dissolved organic carbon (DOC). Due to the unpredictability of wildfires, few studies have been able to employ before-after, control-intervention experimental designs, or to evaluate fire-induced water quality changes in the context of long-term datasets. Here, we present data from a lake draining a moorland catchment in the United Kingdom, part of a 22 site, 25 year monitoring network, which experienced a major wildfire in 2011. The main water quality response was a large, sustained increase in nitrate concentrations, sufficient to raise acidity and aluminium concentrations, effectively reversing over a decade of recovery from the effects of acid deposition. Concurrently, we observed a clear reduction in DOC concentrations, contrasting with prescribed fire studies from similar ecosystems (none based on before-after studies) that have suggested that burning causes DOC to increase. However data from a downstream water supply reservoir do suggest a fire-induced change in DOC quality towards more soil-derived aromatic organic compounds, and lake sediment data suggest a large increase in particulate organic carbon. We conclude that the biogeochemical responses to wildfire in our moorland catchment were broadly similar to those observed in forest ecosystems elsewhere, but that historically high nitrogen deposition has made the ecosystem particularly susceptible to nitrate leaching and (re-)acidification. The observed reduction in DOC concentrations casts some doubt on the widely held view that prescribed burning in moorland systems has contributed to long-term DOC increases.

Type: Article
Title: Sustained biogeochemical impacts of wildfire in a mountain lake catchment
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Geography
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1519620
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