Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences

High-frequency in situ optical measurements during a storm event: Assessing relationships between dissolved organic matter, sediment concentrations, and hydrologic processes

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Abstract

[1] Dissolved organic matter (DOM) dynamics during storm events has received considerable attention in forested watersheds, but the extent to which storms impart rapid changes in DOM concentration and composition in highly disturbed agricultural watersheds remains poorly understood. In this study, we used identical in situ optical sensors for DOM fluorescence (FDOM) with and without filtration to continuously evaluate surface water DOM dynamics in a 415 km2 agricultural watershed over a 4 week period containing a short-duration rainfall event. Peak turbidity preceded peak discharge by 4 h and increased by over 2 orders of magnitude, while the peak filtered FDOM lagged behind peak turbidity by 15 h. FDOM values reported using the filtered in situ fluorometer increased nearly fourfold and were highly correlated with dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations (r2 = 0.97), providing a highly resolved proxy for DOC throughout the study period. Discrete optical properties including specific UV absorbance (SUVA254), spectral slope (S290–350), and fluorescence index (FI) were also strongly correlated with in situ FDOM and indicate a shift toward aromatic, high molecular weight DOM from terrestrially derived sources during the storm. The lag of the peak in FDOM behind peak discharge presumably reflects the draining of watershed soils from natural and agricultural landscapes. Field and experimental evidence showed that unfiltered FDOM measurements underestimated filtered FDOM concentrations by up to ∼60% at particle concentrations typical of many riverine systems during hydrologic events. Together, laboratory and in situ data provide insights into the timing and magnitude of changes in DOM quantity and quality during storm events in an agricultural watershed, and indicate the need for sample filtration in systems with moderate to high suspended sediment loads.

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