Articles | Volume 10, issue 4
Research article
08 Apr 2013
Research article |  | 08 Apr 2013

Long-term patterns in dissolved organic carbon, major elements and trace metals in boreal headwater catchments: trends, mechanisms and heterogeneity

S. K. Oni, M. N. Futter, K. Bishop, S. J. Köhler, M. Ottosson-Löfvenius, and H. Laudon

Abstract. The boreal landscape is a complex, spatio-temporally varying mosaic of forest and mire landscape elements that control surface water hydrology and chemistry. Here, we assess long-term water quality time series from three nested headwater streams draining upland forest (C2), peat/mire (C4) and mixed (C7) (forest and mire) catchments. Acid deposition in this region is low and is further declining. Temporal trends in weather and runoff (1981–2008), dissolved organic carbon concentration [DOC] (1993–2010) and other water quality parameters (1987–2011) were assessed. There was no significant annual trend in precipitation or runoff. However, runoff increased in March and declined in May. This suggested an earlier snowmelt regime in recent years. Significant monotonic increasing trends in air temperature and length of growing season suggested a decrease in snowfall and less spring runoff. Stream [DOC] was positively correlated with some trace metals (copper, iron and zinc) and negatively with several other chemical parameters (e.g. sulfate, conductivity, calcium). Both sulfate and conductivity showed declining trends, while a significant increase was observed in pH during winter and spring. Calcium and magnesium showed monotonic decreasing trends. The declining trajectories of stream base cation and sulfate concentrations during other times of the year were not accompanied by changes in pH and alkalinity. These results indicate subtle effects of recovery from acidification. Water temperature increased significantly both annually and in most months. A simultaneous monotonic increase in iron (Fe) and [DOC] in autumn suggests co-transport of Fe-DOC in the form of organometallic complexes. A monotonic increase in UV absorbance in most months without co-occurring changes in DOC trend suggests a shift in DOC quality to a more humic-rich type. The observed increase in soil solution [DOC] and subtle trends in stream [DOC] suggest that climate rather than recovery from acidification is the dominant driver of DOC trends in the Svartberget catchment.

Final-revised paper