Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Mark W. Williams

Second Advisor

Noah P. Molotch

Third Advisor

Natalie Mladenov


High elevation ecosystems throughout the Colorado Front Range are undergoing changes in biogeochemical cycling due to an increase in nitrogen deposition in precipitation and a changing climate. While nitrate concentrations continue to rise in surface water of the Green Lakes Valley (GLV) by 0.27 umol L-1 per year, atmospheric deposition of inorganic nitrogen has recently curtailed due to drought, leaving a gap in our understanding of the source of the increased export of nitrate. Here, we employ a novel triple isotope method, using Δ17O-NO3- for the first time in an alpine catchment to quantify the terrestrial and atmospheric contribution of nitrate to numerous water types in GLV. Results show that nitrate in surface waters, including talus, soil water and rock glacier melt, is more than 75% terrestrial, with the strongest atmospheric signals present during snowmelt. Results suggest that alpine catchment biogeochemistry in GLV has transitioned to a net nitrification system.