Articles | Volume 11, issue 11
Research article
11 Jun 2014
Research article |  | 11 Jun 2014

DOC sources and DOC transport pathways in a small headwater catchment as revealed by carbon isotope fluctuation during storm events

T. Lambert, A.-C. Pierson-Wickmann, G. Gruau, A. Jaffrezic, P. Petitjean, J. N. Thibault, and L. Jeanneau

Abstract. Monitoring the isotopic composition (δ13CDOC) of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) during flood events can be helpful for locating DOC sources in catchments and quantifying their relative contribution to stream DOC flux. High-resolution (< hourly basis) δ13CDOC data were obtained during six successive storm events occurring during the high-flow period in a small headwater catchment in western France. Intra-storm δ13CDOC values exhibit a marked temporal variability, with some storms showing large variations (> 2 ‰), and others yielding a very restricted range of values (< 1 ‰). Comparison of these results with previously published data shows that the range of intra-storm δ13CDOC values closely reflects the temporal and spatial variation in δ13CDOC observed in the riparian soils of this catchment during the same period. Using δ13CDOC data in conjunction with hydrometric monitoring and an end-member mixing approach (EMMA), we show that (i) > 80% of the stream DOC flux flows through the most superficial soil horizons of the riparian domain and (ii) the riparian soil DOC flux is comprised of DOC coming ultimately from both riparian and upland domains. Based on its δ13C fingerprint, we find that the upland DOC contribution decreases from ca.~30% of the stream DOC flux at the beginning of the high-flow period to < 10% later in this period. Overall, upland domains contribute significantly to stream DOC export, but act as a size-limited reservoir, whereas soils in the wetland domains act as a near-infinite reservoir. Through this study, we show that δ13CDOC provides a powerful tool for tracing DOC sources and DOC transport mechanisms in headwater catchments, having a high-resolution assessment of temporal and spatial variability.

Final-revised paper