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Scientific Investigations Report 2009–5150

In cooperation with Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

DayCent-Chem Simulations of Ecological and Biogeochemical Processes of Eight Mountain Ecosystems in the United States

By Melannie D. Hartman, Jill S. Baron, David W. Clow, Irena F. Creed, Charles T. Driscoll, Holly A. Ewing, Bruce D. Haines, Jennifer Knoepp, Kate Lajtha, Dennis S. Ojima, William J. Parton, Jim Renfro, R. Bruce Robinson, Helga Van Miegroet, Kathleen C. Weathers, and Mark W. Williams


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Atmospheric deposition of nitrogen (N) and sulfur (S) cause complex responses in ecosystems, from fertilization to forest ecosystem decline, freshwater eutrophication to acidification, loss of soil base cations, and alterations of disturbance regimes. DayCent-Chem, an ecosystem simulation model that combines ecosystem nutrient cycling and plant dynamics with aqueous geochemical equilibrium calculations, was developed to address ecosystem responses to combined atmospheric N and S deposition. It is unique among geochemically-based models in its dynamic biological cycling of N and its daily timestep for investigating ecosystem and surface water chemical response to episodic events.

The model was applied to eight mountainous watersheds in the United States. The sites represent a gradient of N deposition across locales, from relatively pristine to N-saturated, and a variety of ecosystem types and climates. Overall, the model performed best in predicting stream chemistry for snowmelt-dominated sites. It was more difficult to predict daily stream chemistry for watersheds with deep soils, high amounts of atmospheric deposition, and a large degree of spatial heterogeneity. DayCent-Chem did well in representing plant and soil carbon and nitrogen pools and fluxes. Modeled stream nitrate (NO3-) and ammonium (NH4+) concentrations compared well with measurements at all sites, with few exceptions. Simulated daily stream sulfate (SO42-) concentrations compared well to measured values for sites where SO42- deposition has been low and where SO42- adsorption/desorption reactions did not seem to be important. The concentrations of base cations and silica in streams are highly dependent on the geochemistry and weathering rates of minerals in each catchment, yet these were rarely, if ever, known. Thus, DayCent-Chem could not accurately predict weathering products for some catchments. Additionally, few data were available for exchangeable soil cations or the magnitude of base cation deposition as a result of dry and fog inputs. The uncertainties related to weathering reactions, deposition, soil cation exchange capacity, and groundwater contributions influenced how well the simulated acid neutralizing capacity (ANC) and pH estimates compared to observed values. Daily discharge was well represented by the model for most sites.

The chapters of this report describe the parameterization for each site and summarize model results for ecosystem variables, stream discharge, and stream chemistry. This intersite comparison exercise provided insight about important and possibly not well understood processes.

First posted November 20, 2009

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Suggested citation:

Hartman, M.D., Baron, J.S., Clow, D.W., Creed, I.F., Driscoll, C.T., Ewing, H.A., Haines, B.D., Knoepp, J., Lajtha, K., Ojima, D.S., Parton, W.J., Renfro, J., Robinson, R.B., Van Miegroet, H., Weathers, K.C., and Williams, M.W., 2009, DayCent-Chem simulations of ecological and biogeochemical processes of eight mountain ecosystems in the United States: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2009–5150, 174 p.


1. Overview

2. Acadia National Park, Hadlock Brook Watershed, Maine

3. Hubbard Brook Long-Term Ecological Research Site, New Hampshire

4. Coweeta Long-Term Ecological Research Site, North Carolina

5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Noland Divide Watershed, North Carolina

6. Rocky Mountain National Park, Andrews Creek Watershed, Colorado

7. Niwot Ridge Long-Term Ecological Research Site, Green Lakes Valley, Colorado

8. Mount Rainier National Park, Lake Louise Watershed, Washington

9. H.J. Andrews Long-Term Ecological Research Site, Oregon

References Cited

Appendix 1. Abbreviations Used in This Document

Contributing Authors

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