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Optimizing design and management of restored wetlands and floodplains in agricultural watersheds for water quality

thesis
posted on 2023-12-07, 16:13 authored by Danielle LayDanielle Lay

Excess nitrogen loading to surface waters and groundwater from intensive agriculture threatens human and ecosystem health and economic prosperity within and downstream of the Mississippi River Basin. Restoring wetlands and floodplains reduces nitrogen export, but nitrogen export from the Mississippi River Basin remains elevated. Engineering restored wetlands and floodplains to have higher areal denitrification rates is necessary to advance toward nitrogen reduction goals. Environmental controls of denitrification in restored ecosystems must be further investigated to determine under what conditions denitrification is highest and to link these optimal conditions to restoration approaches. Yet, restoration efforts to reduce nitrogen export may inadvertently increase phosphorus export and greenhouse gas emissions. We evaluated different restoration design approaches and identified environmental controls of denitrification, phosphorus release, and greenhouse gas production to advance knowledge of how floodplain and wetland restorations can be designed and managed to maximize denitrification while also constraining phosphorus release and greenhouse gas production. Comparisons of different restoration design approaches in the Wabash River Basin in Indiana, U.S.A., demonstrated that a hydrologically connected floodplain with row crop agriculture provides limited N treatment. Floodplain restorations that involved structural modifications to enhance hydrologic connectivity supported higher denitrification than restorations that only reestablished native vegetation. Investigations of the plot- and field-scale drivers of denitrification indicated that enhanced hydrologic connectivity and specific native wetland and prairie vegetation types were associated with soil conditions that supported high denitrification potential, mainly sufficient soil moisture and bioavailable organic matter. These same soil conditions were associated with increased risks of phosphorus release and greenhouse gas production. However, artificial flooding experiments showed that preventing prolonged flooding has a strong potential to reduce phosphorus export from floodplains with limited impacts on nitrogen treatment. Microcosm experiments with plant litter and wetland soils indicated that certain wetland vegetation types may reduce greenhouse gas production without sacrificing nitrogen removal capacity based on differences in plant biomass composition.

History

Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy

Department

  • Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Sara McMillan

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

Jacob Hosen

Additional Committee Member 2

Gregory Noe

Additional Committee Member 3

Michael Burchell II

Additional Committee Member 4

Laura Bowling