Diverse water quality responses to extreme climate events: an introduction

Kaushal, S. S.Gold, Arthur J.Bernal, Susana Tank, J. L.  Biogeochemistry : doi:10.1007/s10533-018-0527-x (2018)  DIGITAL CSIC

We synthesize and summarize main findings from a special issue examining the origins, evolution, and resilience of diverse water quality responses to extreme climate events resulting from a Chapman Conference of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Origins refer to sequences of interactive disturbances and antecedent conditions that influence diversification of water quality responses to extreme events. Evolution refers to the amplification, intensification, and persistence of water quality signals across space and time in watersheds. Resilience refers to strategies for managing and minimizing extreme water quality impacts and ecosystem recovery. The contributions of this special issue, taken together, highlight the following: (1) there is diversification in the origins of water quality responses to extreme climate events based on the intensity, duration, and magnitude of the event mediated by previous historical conditions; (2) interactions between climate variability and watershed disturbances (e.g., channelization of river networks, land use change, and deforestation) amplify water quality ‘pulses,’ which can manifest as large changes in chemical concentrations and fluxes over relatively short time periods. In the context of the evolution of water quality responses, results highlight: (3) there are high intensity and long-term climate events, which can generate unique sequences in water quality, which have differential impacts on persistence of water quality problems and ecosystem recovery rates; and (4) ‘chemical cocktails’ or novel mixtures of elements and compounds are transported and transformed during extreme climate events. The main findings regarding resilience to extreme climate events are that: (5) river restoration strategies for reducing pollution from extreme events can be improved by preserving and restoring floodplains, wetlands, and oxbow ponds, which enhance hydrologic and biogeochemical retention, and lengthen the distribution of hydrologic residence times; and (6) the biogeochemical capacity for stream and river ecosystems to retain and transform pollution from landscapes can become ‘‘saturated’’ during floods unless watershed pollution sources are reduced. Finally, the unpredictable occurrence of extreme climate events argues for wider deployment of high-frequency, in situ sensors for monitoring, managing, and modeling diverse water quality responses. These sensors can be used to develop robust proxies for chemical cocktails, detect water quality violations following extreme climate events, and effectively trace the trajectory of water quality recovery in response to managing ecosystem resilience.