A geospatial approach for assessing denitrification sinks within lower-order catchments

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Local decision makers can influence land use practices that alter N loading and processing within the drainage basin of lower-order stream reaches. Because many practices reduce water retention times and alter the timing and pathways of water flow, local decisions regarding land use can potentially exert a major influence on watershed N export. We illustrate a geospatial approach for assessing the role of denitrification sinks in watershed N delivery at the local level using: (a) widely available geospatial data, (b) current findings from peer-reviewed literature, (c) USGS stream gage data, and (d) locally based data on selected stream attributes. With high resolution, high quality GIS data increasingly available to local communities, they are now in a position to guide local management of watershed N by targeting upland source controls and by identifying landscape sinks for protection and/or restoration. We characterize riparian wetlands, lentic water bodies, and stream reaches as N sinks in the landscape and use geospatial particle tracking to estimate flow paths from N sources and evaluate N removal within sinks. We present an example analysis of the Chickasheen drainage basin, RI, USA, comparing N flux from three equivalent hypothetical N source areas situated in different regions of the watershed and illustrating the role of each N sink type in mediating N flux. Because our goal is to generate a tool that is used by and useful to decision makers we are exploring methods to better understand how decision makers understand and respond to the manner in which information is presented. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.

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Ecological Engineering