Export, biodegradation, and disinfection byproduct formation of dissolved and particulate organic carbon in a forested headwater stream during extreme rainfall events
Abstract. Despite an increasing recognition of the importance of extreme rainfall events for organic carbon export to inland waters, little attention has been paid to the export and reactivity of particulate organic carbon (POC) and dissolved organic C (DOC) in mountainous headwater watersheds under monsoon climates. To investigate environmental implications of storm-enhanced export of POC and DOC in mountainous headwater streams, we examined the relationships between storm magnitude and C export from a forested watershed in the Haean Basin, South Korea, during 13 storm events over 4 years and compared potentials of DOC and POC for biodegradation and disinfection byproduct (DBP) formation during an extreme rainfall event with a total rainfall of 209 mm. Event mean concentrations and export of POC increased nonlinearly above thresholds of precipitation and discharge, far exceeding the relatively small increases of DOC. The export of POC during a few storm events with a total rainfall above 200 mm per event exceeded the annual organic C export during dry years. During the 209 mm storm event, concentrations of total trihalomethanes formed by POC-derived dissolved components changed synchronously with POC concentrations, exhibiting lower levels than those formed by DOC. During a 30-day incubation at 25 °C, DOC exported during peak flow exhibited rapid biodegradation of labile components within 7 days. In contrast, the concentrations of DOC leached from POC gradually increased following the initial decline. Gradual transformation of POC-derived dissolved materials resulted in greater increases in the intensity of fulvic- and humic-like fluorescent components compared to the DOC treatment. The results highlight the significance of extreme rainfall events as "hot moments" for POC export from mountainous watersheds and also suggest that storm pulses of POC can provide potential sources of reactive organic components that can rapidly biodegrade and form DBPs after being released into headwater streams.