First Advisor

Jennifer L. Morse

Term of Graduation

Spring 2019

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Earth, Environment, & Society


Earth, Environment, & Society




Nitrogen cycle, Denitrification, Storm water retention basins, Urban runoff



Physical Description

1 online resource (x, 132 pages)


Urban development is transforming landscapes at unprecedented rates. Human activities and landscape modifications associated with urbanization extensively increase hydrologic demands and modify natural hydrologic systems; consequently, population growth occurring in urban areas increases pressure on water resources. Urban aquatic ecosystems are vulnerable to impacts associated with increased connectivity with urban surfaces and hydrologic changes that initiate long-term changes in receiving waterbodies. Nitrogen (N) loading from urban and suburban catchments to receiving surface waters can lead to impairment of aquatic ecosystems and is a concern in many cities with water quality issues. To improve urban water quality, cities are increasingly adopting the use of bioretention facilities (BRFs), systems that are designed to imitate natural hydrological and ecological processes, in an attempt to mitigate adverse impacts of urban hydrology on developed sites and provide additional ecosystem services. Among the desired functions of BRF, nutrient cycling and pollutant removal are important services for water quality.

While many ecological functions of BRFs remain poorly understood, there is growing interest among researchers in examining the capacity of BRFs to provide N removal processes. Denitrification is of particular interest as it is the only permanent pathway for ecosystem N removal. High potential for N removal via denitrification and other N cycling processes has been observed, however, there have been limited on-the-ground assessments of how N cycling processes in BRFs vary across different seasonal conditions and regional climates. The objective of this dissertation is to provide a detailed assessment of soil N process rates and variability in BRFs across seasons and geographic contexts in the United States.

Chapter 2 presents a survey of N cycling in BRFs in Portland, OR, across seasons and examines the influence of soil drainage properties of these processes. Chapter 3 expands the spatial dimension and compares seasonal N cycling in BRFs in Baltimore, MD, and Portland, OR, to capture how these processes vary in distinct seasonal and regional conditions. Chapter 4 further broadens the spatial scope and examines N cycling in BRFs in 6 US cities and compares BRF soils to reference riparian areas to determine how similar BRF systems are to the ecosystems after which they are designed.

The results from this dissertation showed that seasonal variability was not a primary influence on N cycling rates. N cycling rates showed some variability across regions, but signatures of the soil ecology in individual BRFs were similar across regions and distinct from natural riparian areas. These results also suggest that there may be important tradeoffs in the ecosystem services provided by BRFs, and that designers should consider the priorities of the stormwater management programs in order to achieve a balance between these tradeoffs. This study is one of several that examines potential N cycling in BRFs, but it extends the temporal and spatial dimensions of this body of research, showing that the capacity of N cycling processes in BRFs does not change significantly across seasonal conditions but may be impacted by design and maintenance decisions across regions. Ultimately, providing hydrologic ecosystem services, such as high infiltration rates, and important nutrient cycling services like denitrification may require a balance between soil drainage rates that support stormwater volume mitigation while providing substantial enough retention times to support pollutant removal processes.


In Copyright. URI: This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).


This work was supported by the National Science Foundation IGERT grant # 0966376: “Sustaining Ecosystem Services to Support Rapidly Urbanizing Areas.” Additionally, this work was supported by the National Science Foundation Urban Resilence to Extremes Sustainability Research Network and the Edward D. and Olive C. Bushby Scholarship at Portland State University.

Persistent Identifier