Ongoing Projects

Here’s what we’re currently up to:

Organic Carbon Storage in Rivers in the United States – Ellen Wohl

As part of a national-scale inventory of organic carbon stored along river corridors in the United States, we are measuring the organic carbon content of floodplain soils along rivers of the tallgrass and shortgrass prairies, shown below:

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Tallgrass Prarie Preserve, OK
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Tributary of the Arkansas River, CO

Longitudinal Patterns of Organic Carbon Storage in Mountainous River Networks – Dan Scott, PhD Dissertation

Component 1: Logging Impacts on Soil and Wood Carbon Storage in a Mountain River Basin – Olympic Mountains, WA

Anthropogenic climate change is one of the biggest management concerns of our generation. Forest managers have the potential to reduce carbon emissions from logging. However, it is imperative for researchers to provide managers with a robust understanding of how humans affect carbon emissions over broad spatial and temporal scales in order to best manage for reduced carbon emissions. Although prior studies have examined the effects of logging on soil carbon over small temporal and spatial scales, the effect of logging on carbon storage in soils over large scales and in carbon sequestration hot spots such as mountainous regions has not been quantified. We propose a watershed-scale examination of the total effect of logging on the carbon storage of mountain river basins. We will conduct a paired-basin study on two basins near the Olympic National Park, one logged and one unlogged. In each basin, we will measure organic carbon storage and age from the headwaters to the mountain front in soil and downed wood. This will characterize how carbon storage changes down the length of a river network, identifying where carbon is focused in the basin. This project will identify the magnitude of carbon storage change due to repeated logging and will allow managers to consider forestry practices in terms of their integrated effects on carbon storage. We will work with and present our research to local and national land managers to ensure that our results inform future management of forest resources in mountainous regions.[/vc_column_text]

Component 2 – Assessing the Longitudinal Trends in and Controls on Carbon Storage in Mountain River Networks

In addition to Component 1, I will be examining carbon storage in mountain river basins in the Cascade Mountains of Washington and the Wind River Range of Wyoming. By examining a total of 4 diverse mountain river basins, I hope to characterize longitudinal trends in carbon storage down a river basin and trends across varying regimes of disturbance (fires, logging) and climate to identify regions that may be sensitive to losses of carbon with predicted future changes in climate. This work will guide management strategies towards areas of high carbon storage, allowing for maximum effectiveness of carbon emissions mitigation strategies. It will also provide a much more complete understanding of how mountain river basins contribute to carbon storage and the carbon cycle on the land.

Floodplain organic carbon storage in the Yukon River basin – Katherine Lininger, PhD Dissertation

Understanding the global carbon cycle, or how carbon moves through the land, ocean, and atmosphere and where it is stored, is important for fully understanding climate change and how humans are affecting climate. One aspect of the carbon cycle that isn’t well understood is how much carbon is stored in rivers and floodplains. There may be more carbon in rivers and floodplains than previously thought, which is important for determining the movement of carbon between the land, ocean, and atmosphere.

As rivers transport sediment and organic matter, they can deposit those materials in their floodplains, storing carbon. I am quantifying that storage in the boreal (subarctic) zone through research on floodplains in the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge in interior Alaska. My research will inform how geomorphology and hydrology influence carbon dynamics.

Lininger KB, Wohl E, Sutfin NA, Rose JR. 2017. Floodplain downed wood volumes: a comparison across three biomes. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 42: 1248-1261.

In the absence of beaver: Characterizing changes in water, sediment and organic carbon storage in active and abandoned beaver meadows – DeAnna Laurel, PhD Dissertation

Beaver (Castor canadensis) are ecosystem engineers that shape the environment around them to better suit their habitat needs. Through dam building, beaver alter valley and stream morphology, trap sediment and nutrients, change the riparian vegetation and raise the riparian water table. Dams cause frequent overbank flow, leading to fine sediment deposition and a complex valley bottom with multi-thread channels, ponds and high biodiversity: this is known as a beaver meadow. Beaver alter carbon and nitrogen dynamics by trapping organic carbon with fine sediment behind dams and altering the storage and retention time of nitrogen. Human removal of beaver dams alters the stream geomorphology and hydrology, which in turn changes the riparian community structure. Much is known about how beavers alter the environment to their advantage when they move into a valley, but little has been studied about what occurs in these valleys when the beaver disappear, especially where dams have not been directly removed by humans. Quantifying changes in the morphology, sediment and organic carbon dynamics after the disappearance of beaver could be a helpful tool for assessing the restoration potential of these valley bottoms, and assessing the potential resilience of these ecosystems to changing climate. Rocky Mountain National Park in north central Colorado provides an opportunity to examine the differences between active and naturally abandoned beaver meadows. This project quantifies surface and stratigraphic complexity, organic carbon storage, and inflow and outflow stream hydrographs for 10 beaver meadows in northern Colorado that range from currently active to sites abandoned by beaver across a range from the 1980s to 2013. Preliminary results from our study indicate greater morphologic complexity, greater surface water storage and greater surface water retention time in active beaver meadows. Beaver meadows become progressively geomorphically and hydrologically simpler following abandonment.

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