Dissolved Organic Carbon Cycling in Forested Watersheds: A Carbon Isotope Approach


  • S. L. Schiff,

  • R. Aravena,

  • S. E. Trumbore,

  • P. J. Dillon


Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is important in the acid-base chemistry of acid-sensitive freshwater systems; in the complexation, mobility, persistence, and toxicity of metals and other pollutants; and in lake carbon metabolism. Carbon isotopes (13C and 14C) are used to study the origin, transport, and fate of DOC in a softwater catchment in central Ontario. Precipitation, soil percolates, groundwaters, stream, beaver pond, and lake waters, and lake sediment pore water were characterized chemically and isotopically. In addition to total DOC, isotopic measurements were made on the humic and fulvic DOC fractions. The lake is a net sink for DOC. Δ14C results indicate that the turnover time of most of the DOC in streams, lakes, and wetlands is fast, less than 40 years, and on the same time scale as changes in acidic deposition. DOC in groundwaters is composed of older carbon than surface waters, indicating extensive cycling of DOC in the upper soil zone or aquifer.