Uncertainty of solute flux estimation in ungauged small streams: potential implications for input-output nutrient mass balances at stream reach scale
Input-output mass balances within stream reaches provide in situ estimates of stream nutrient retention/release under a wide spectrum of hydrological conditions. Providing good estimates of the mass balances for nutrients depends on precise hydrological monitoring and good chemical characterisation of stream water at the input and output ends of the stream reach. There is a need to optimise the hydrological monitoring and the frequencies of water sampling to yield precise annual mass balances, so as to avoid undue cost - high resolution monitoring and subsequent chemical analysis can be labour intensive and costly. In this paper, simulation exercises were performed using a data set created to represent the instantaneous discharge and solute dynamics at the input and output ends of a model stream reach during a one year period. At the output end, stream discharge and water chemistry were monitored continuously, while the input end was assumed to be ungauged; water sampling frequency was changed arbitrarily. Instantaneous discharge at the ungauged sampling point was estimated with an empirical power model linking the discharge to the catchment area (Hooper, 1986). The model thus substitutes for the additional gauge station. Simulations showed that 10 days was the longest chemical sampling interval which could provide reach annual mass balances of acceptable precision. Presently, the relationship between discharge and catchment area is usually assumed to be linear but simulations indicate that small departures from the linearity of this relationship could cause dramatic changes in the mass balance estimations.