Dams impact carbon dynamics in U.S. rivers

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Abstract

Dissolved organic carbon (DOC)—which leaches into freshwater systems from plants, soils, and sediments, and from other detritus present in the water itself—is the major food supplement for microorganisms and plays an important role in several environmental processes and in the global carbon cycle. In some aquatic systems such as estuaries, the optically measurable colored component of dissolved organic matter (CDOM) is often proportional to the concentration of DOC. CDOM forms when light-absorbing compounds are released into the water by decaying organic material and through photochemical degradation of certain organic compounds. Hence, CDOM reflects not just the environment and ecosystem, which is the source of the detritus, but also the processes that deliver the organic matter into aquatic systems. Human activities, such as logging, agriculture, and waste water treatment, also affect CDOM levels in aquatic systems. It is relatively easy and inexpensive to measure the CDOM content in small volumes of water.

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