The Beast from the East: impact of an atypical cold weather event on hydrology and nutrient dynamics in two Irish catchments
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CitationVero SE, McDonald NT, McGrath G, Mellander PE. The Beast from the East: impact of an atypical cold weather event on hydrology and nutrient dynamics in two Irish catchments. Irish Journal of Agricultural and Food Research 2020;59(1):113-122; doi http://dx.doi.org/10.15212/ijafr-2020-0108
AbstractA historic lack of continuous stream nutrient monitoring at the catchment scale limits understanding of the effects of snowstorms. The most significant snowstorm since 1985, nicknamed “the Beast from the East”, occurred in February–March 2018. High-frequency stream outlet monitoring in two close but hydrologically and agriculturally contrasting catchments (<1,200 ha) captured phosphorus (total and reactive), total oxygenated nitrogen (TON), temperature and discharge dynamics during and after the event. The grassland catchment consists of poorly drained gley soils and exhibits overland flow pathways, while the arable catchment consists of well-drained brown earths and is dominated by subsurface pathways. Nitrate (NO3-N) concentrations were initially elevated (3.50 and 7.89 mg/L for poorly drained grassland and well-drained arable catchments, respectively) before becoming diluted by meltwater. Total reactive phosphorus (TRP) displayed a distal (anti-clockwise) concentration-discharge hysteresis in the poorly drained grassland catchment suggesting low mobilisation from the soil. Conversely, the well-drained arable catchment displayed proximal (clockwise) hysteresis, indicative of the mobilisation from stream and bank sediment. These relatively infrequent snow events behave similarly to heavy rainfall as regards nutrient losses, albeit subject to a time-lag induced by the speed of snowmelt and the soil moisture deficit (SMD) prior to snowfall. Antecedent land management is crucial to mitigate risk. The current absence of records and analyses of catchment response, particularly nutrient dynamics, to atypical cold weather events in Ireland limits understanding of their effects on water quality. The present study provides the first such baseline information from which land management strategies and the implications for attaining environmental targets can be explored.
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