Movement of sediment, and associated phosphorus, from stream banks to freshwater lakes is predicted to increase with greater frequency of extreme precipitation events. This higher phosphorus load may accelerate harmful algal blooms in affected water bodies, such as Lake Champlain in Vermont, New York, and Québec. In the Mad River, a subwatershed in central Vermont's Lake Champlain Basin, extreme flooding from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 caused extensive erosion. We measured stream channel change along the main stem between 2008 and 2011 by digitizing available prestorm and poststorm aerial imagery. Soils were sampled post Irene at six active stream erosion sites, using an experimental design to measure differences in soil texture and phosphorus both with depth (90 cm) and distance from the stream. In addition to total phosphorus (TP), we determined bioavailable (soil test) phosphorus (STP) and the degree of phosphorus saturation (DPS). The six sites represented a 0.87-km length of stream bank that contributed an estimated 17.6 × 10 3 Mg of sediment and 15.8 Mg of TP, roughly the same as average annual watershed export estimates. At four sites, the STP and DPS were low and suggested little potential for short-term phosphorus release. At two agricultural sites where the lateral extent of erosion was high, imagery showed a clear loss of well-established riparian buffer. Present-day near-stream soils were elevated in STP and DPS. An increase in these extreme events will clearly increase sediment loads. There will also be increasing concentration of sediment phosphorus if stream banks continue to erode into actively managed agricultural fields.
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Ross DS, Wemple BC, Willson LJ, Balling CM, Underwood KL, Hamshaw SD. Impact of an extreme storm event on river corridor bank erosion and phosphorus mobilization in a mountainous watershed in the Northeastern United States. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences. 2019 Jan 1;124(1):18-32.