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Keywords:

  • climate;
  • DOC;
  • hydrology;
  • recovery from acidification;
  • sulphate;
  • time series;
  • water quality

Abstract

Increasing concentrations of organic matter (OM) in surface waters have been noted over large parts of the boreal/nemoral zone in Europe and North America. This has raised questions about the causes and the likelihood of further increases. A number of drivers have been proposed, including temperature, hydrology, as well as inline image- and Cl deposition. The data reported so far, however, have been insufficient to define the relative importance of different drivers in landscapes where they interact. Thirty-five years of monthly measurements of absorbance and chemical oxygen demand (COD), two common proxies for OM, from 28 large Scandinavian catchments provide an unprecedented opportunity to resolve the importance of hypothesized drivers. For 21 of the catchments, there are 18 years of total organic carbon (TOC) measurements as well. Despite the heterogeneity of the catchments with regards to climate, size and land use, there is a high degree of synchronicity in OM across the entire region. Rivers go from widespread trends of decreasing OM to increasing trends and back again three times in the 35-year record. This synchronicity in decadal scale oscillations and long-term trends suggest a common set of dominant OM drivers in these landscapes. Here, we use regression models to test the importance of different potential drivers. We show that flow and inline image together can predict most of the interannual variability in OM proxies, up to 88% for absorbance, up to 78% for COD. Two other candidate drivers, air temperature and Cl, add little explanatory value. Declines in anthropogenic inline image since the mid-1970s are thus related to the observed OM increases in Scandinavia, but, in contrast to many recent studies, flow emerges as an even more important driver of OM variability. Stabilizing inline image levels also mean that hydrology is likely to be the major driver of future variability and trends in OM.