Small freshwater reservoirs are ubiquitous and likely play an important role in global greenhouse gas (GHG) budgets relative to their limited water surface area. However, constraining annual GHG fluxes in small freshwater reservoirs is challenging given their footprint area and spatially and temporally variable emissions. To quantify the GHG budget of a small (0.1 km2) reservoir, we deployed an eddy covariance system in a small reservoir located in southwestern Virginia, USA over two years to measure carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) fluxes near-continuously. Fluxes were coupled with in situ sensors measuring multiple environmental parameters. Over both years, we found the reservoir to be a large source of CO2 (633-731 g CO2-C m-2 yr-1) and CH4 (1.02-1.29 g CH4-C m-2 yr-1) to the atmosphere, with substantial sub-daily, daily, weekly, and seasonal timescales of variability. For example, fluxes were substantially greater during the summer thermally-stratified season as compared to the winter. In addition, we observed significantly greater GHG fluxes during winter intermittent ice-on conditions as compared to continuous ice-on conditions, suggesting GHG emissions from lakes and reservoirs may increase with predicted decreases in winter ice-cover. Finally, we identified several key environmental variables that may be driving reservoir GHG fluxes at multiple timescales, including, surface water temperature and thermocline depth followed by fluorescent dissolved organic matter. Overall, our novel year-round eddy covariance data from a small reservoir indicate that these freshwater ecosystems likely contribute a substantial amount of CO2 and CH4 to global GHG budgets, relative to their surface area.
Oxygen availability is decreasing in many lakes and reservoirs worldwide, raising the urgency for understanding how anoxia (low oxygen) affects coupled biogeochemical cycling, which has major implications for water quality, food webs, and ecosystem functioning. Although the increasing magnitude and prevalence of anoxia has been documented in freshwaters globally, the challenges of disentangling oxygen and temperature responses have hindered assessment of the effects of anoxia on carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus concentrations, stoichiometry (chemical ratios), and retention in freshwaters. The consequences of anoxia are likely severe and may be irreversible, necessitating ecosystem-scale experimental investigation of decreasing freshwater oxygen availability. To address this gap, we devised and conducted REDOX (the Reservoir Ecosystem Dynamic Oxygenation eXperiment), an unprecedented, seven-year experiment in which we manipulated and modeled bottom-water (hypolimnetic) oxygen availability at the whole-ecosystem scale in a eutrophic reservoir. Seven years of data reveal that anoxia significantly increased hypolimnetic carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus concentrations and altered elemental stoichiometry by factors of 2-5 relative to oxic periods. Importantly, prolonged summer anoxia increased nitrogen export from the reservoir by six-fold and changed the reservoir from a net sink to a net source of phosphorus and organic carbon downstream. While low oxygen in freshwaters is thought of as a response to land use and climate change, results from REDOX demonstrate that low oxygen can also be a driver of major changes to freshwater biogeochemical cycling, which may serve as an intensifying feedback that increases anoxia in downstream waterbodies. Consequently, as climate and land use change continue to increase the prevalence of anoxia in lakes and reservoirs globally, it is likely that anoxia will have major effects on freshwater carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus budgets as well as water quality and ecosystem functioning.
1. Freshwater phytoplankton communities are currently experiencing multiple global change stressors, including increasing frequency and intensity of storms. An important mechanism by which storms affect lake and reservoir phytoplankton is by altering the water column’s thermal structure (e.g., changes to thermocline depth). However, little is known about the effects of intermittent thermocline deepening on phytoplankton community vertical distribution and composition or the consistency of phytoplankton responses to varying frequency of these disturbances over multiple years. 2. We conducted whole-ecosystem thermocline deepening manipulations in a small reservoir. We used an epilimnetic mixing system to experimentally deepen the thermocline in two summers, simulating potential responses to storms, and did not manipulate thermocline depth in two succeeding summers. We collected weekly depth profiles of water temperature, light, nutrients, and phytoplankton biomass as well as discrete samples to assess phytoplankton community composition. We then used time-series analysis and multivariate ordination to assess the effects of intermittent thermocline deepening due to both our experimental manipulations and naturally-occurring storms on phytoplankton community structure. 3. We observed inter-annual and intra-annual variability in phytoplankton community response to thermocline deepening. We found that peak phytoplankton biomass was significantly deeper in years with a higher frequency of thermocline deepening events (i.e., years with both manipulations and natural storms) due to weaker thermal stratification and deeper depth distributions of soluble reactive phosphorus. Furthermore, we found that the depth of peak phytoplankton biomass was linked to phytoplankton community composition, with certain taxa being associated with deep or shallow biomass peaks, often according to functional traits such as optimal growth temperature, mixotrophy, and low-light tolerance. 4. Our results demonstrate that abrupt thermocline deepening due to water column mixing affects both phytoplankton depth distribution and community structure via alteration of physical and chemical gradients. In addition, our work supports previous research that phytoplankton depth distribution and community composition interact at inter-annual and intra-annual timescales. 5. Variability in the inter-annual and intra-annual responses of phytoplankton to abrupt thermocline deepening indicates that antecedent conditions and the seasonal timing of surface water mixing may mediate these responses. Our findings emphasize that phytoplankton depth distributions are sensitive to global change stressors and effects on depth distributions should be taken into account when predicting phytoplankton responses to increased storms under global change.
Globally-significant quantities of carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) enter freshwater reservoirs each year. These inputs can be buried in sediments, respired, taken up by organisms, emitted to the atmosphere, or exported downstream. While much is known about reservoir-scale biogeochemical processing, less is known about spatial and temporal variability of biogeochemistry within a reservoir along the continuum from inflowing streams to the dam. To address this gap, we examined longitudinal variability in surface water biogeochemistry (C, N, and P) in two small reservoirs throughout a thermally-stratified season. We sampled total and dissolved fractions of C, N, and P, and chlorophyll-a from each reservoir’s major inflows to the dam. We found that time was generally a more important driver of heterogeneity in biogeochemical concentrations than space. However, dissolved nutrient and organic carbon concentrations had high site-to-site variability within both reservoirs, potentially as a result of shifting biological activity or environmental conditions. When considering spatially explicit processing, we found that certain locations within the reservoir, most often the stream-reservoir interface, acted as ‘hotspots’ of change in biogeochemical concentrations. Our study suggests that spatially explicit metrics of biogeochemical processing could help constrain the role of reservoirs in C, N, and P cycles in the landscape. Ultimately, our results highlight that biogeochemical heterogeneity in small reservoirs is driven more by seasonality than longitudinal spatial gradients, and that some sites within reservoirs play critically important roles in whole-ecosystem biogeochemical processing.