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Structure and Function of an Alpine EcosystemNiwot Ridge, Colorado$
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William D. Bowman and Timothy R. Seastedt

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780195117288

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195117288.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 21 June 2021

Hydrology and Hydrochemistry

Hydrology and Hydrochemistry

Chapter:
(p.75) 5 Hydrology and Hydrochemistry
Source:
Structure and Function of an Alpine Ecosystem
Author(s):

Mark W. Williams

Nel Caine

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780195117288.003.0010

Seasonally snow-covered areas of Earth’s mountain ranges are important components of the global hydrologic cycle. Although their area is limited, the snowpacks of these areas are a major source of the water supply for runoff and ground water recharge over wide areas of the mid-latitudes. They are also sensitive indicators of climatic change. The release of ions from the snowpack is an important component in the biogeochemistry of alpine areas and may also function as a sensitive indicator of changes in atmospheric chemistry. The demand for water in the semiarid areas of the western United States is reflected in extensive systems of reservoirs, canals, and flow diversions that have been constructed over the past century. Most of the water resources tapped by these systems derives from the mountain environments of the Rocky Mountains, where contributions of the alpine have long been recognized (Martinelli 1975). In Colorado, 9000 km2 of alpine terrain, less than 4% of the state’s area, provide more than 20% of the state’s streamflow and is especially important in maintaining late-summer flows (Martinelli 1975). Lakes in the Rocky Mountains are relatively uncontaminated compared with many other high-elevation lakes in the world, with the median value of NO-3 concentrations less than 1 μeq L-1 (Psenner 1989). However, in comparison with downstream ecosystems, these high-elevation ecosystems are relatively sensitive to changes in the flux of energy, chemicals, and water because of extensive areas of exposed and unreactive bedrock, rapid hydrologic flushing rates during snowmelt, limited extent of vegetation and soils, and short growing seasons (Williams 1993). Hence, even small changes in atmospheric deposition have the potential to result in large changes in ecosystem dynamics and water quality (Williams et al. 1996a). Furthermore, these ecosystem changes may occur in alpine areas before they occur in downstream ecosystems (Williams et al. 1996b). Apart from its use in municipal supply, agriculture, recreation, and power generation, this water also mediates transfers of geomorphic and biological materials. For this reason, the drainage basin, or catchment, has long been recognized as a basic geomorphic unit in environmental research (e.g., Chorley 1967; Bormann and Likens 1969).

Keywords:   Atmospheric deposition acidity, Biogeochemistry, Nitrogen deposition, Precipitation, Rainfall, Snowmelt

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