Sources and export of particle-borne organic matter during a monsoon flood in a catchment of northern Laos
Abstract. The yields of the tropical rivers of Southeast Asia supply large quantities of carbon to the ocean. The origin and dynamics of particulate organic matter were studied in the Houay Xon River catchment located in northern Laos during the first erosive flood of the rainy season in May 2012. This cultivated catchment is equipped with three successive gauging stations draining areas ranging between 0.2 and 11.6 km2 on the main stem of the permanent stream, and two additional stations draining 0.6 ha hillslopes. In addition, the sequential monitoring of rainwater, overland flow and suspended organic matter compositions was conducted at the 1 m2 plot scale during a storm. The composition of particulate organic matter (total organic carbon and total nitrogen concentrations, δ13C and δ15N) was determined for suspended sediment, soil surface (top 2 cm) and soil subsurface (gullies and riverbanks) samples collected in the catchment (n = 57, 65 and 11, respectively). Hydrograph separation of event water was achieved using water electric conductivity and δ18O measurements for rainfall, overland flow and river water base flow (n = 9, 30 and 57, respectively). The composition of particulate organic matter indicates that upstream suspended sediments mainly originated from cultivated soils labelled by their C3 vegetation cover (upland rice, fallow vegetation and teak plantations). In contrast, channel banks characterized by C4 vegetation (Napier grass) supplied significant quantities of sediment to the river during the flood rising stage at the upstream station as well as in downstream river sections. The highest runoff coefficient (11.7%), sediment specific yield (433 kg ha−1), total organic carbon specific yield (8.3 kg C ha−1) and overland flow contribution (78–100%) were found downstream of reforested areas planted with teaks. Swamps located along the main stream acted as sediment filters and controlled the composition of suspended organic matter. Total organic carbon specific yields were particularly high because they occurred during the first erosive storm of the rainy season, just after the period of slash-and-burn operations in the catchment.