Transverse spatiotemporal variability of lowland river properties and effects on metabolic rate estimates

Published in Water Resources Research, v. 50(1)

Villamizar, S.R., Pai, H., Butler, C.A. and Harmon, T.C.

Publication year 2014

Environmental Systems Program and Sierra Nevada Research Institute, University of California, Merced, California, USA

IAI Program


IAI Project CRN3038


Variability of river properties such as temperature, velocity, dissolved oxygen (DO),and light at small scales (centimeters to meters) can play an important role in the localexchanges of energy and mass. We hypothesize that significant transverse cross-sectionalDO variation is observable within a river. Such variation may influence conventional single-station metabolic rate (primary production and respiration) estimates with respect to DOprobe location, and reveal important connections between physical and biogeochemicalprocesses and their drivers in rivers. Using a mobile sensor system, we measured riverproperties across a bend in the lower Merced River in Central California under stationaryflow conditions in April and September. Cross-sectional temperature, DO, and chlorophyll-a concentrations exhibited modest but significant gradients, which varied in magnitude anddirection on a diel basis. The spatiotemporal variation was consistent with reachgeomorphology and incident light patterns. Gross primary production (GPP), communityrespiration (CR24), and net ecosystem production (NEP) rates estimates derived from localDO and temperature time series varied by 3&ndash10% over the river cross section, with greatervariation in late summer. The presence of transverse metabolic rate gradients in thisrelatively simple reach implies the existence of substantial gradients in more complex riverregimes, such as those spanning distinctively different microhabitats, transient storagezones, and related distributed biogeochemical zones.