Articles | Volume 12, issue 14
Research article
24 Jul 2015
Research article |  | 24 Jul 2015

Sources of dissolved organic matter during storm and inter-storm conditions in a lowland headwater catchment: constraints from high-frequency molecular data

L. Jeanneau, M. Denis, A.-C. Pierson-Wickmann, G. Gruau, T. Lambert, and P. Petitjean

Abstract. The transfer of dissolved organic matter (DOM) at soil–river interfaces controls the biogeochemistry of micropollutants and the equilibrium between continental and oceanic C reservoirs. Understanding the mechanisms controlling this transfer is fundamental to ecology and geochemistry. DOM delivery to streams during storms is assumed to come from the flushing of preexisting soil DOM reservoirs mobilized by the modification of water flow paths. We tested this hypothesis by investigating the evolution of the composition of stream DOM during inter-storm conditions and five storm events monitored with high-frequency sampling. The composition of DOM was analyzed using thermally assisted hydrolysis and methylation (THM) with tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH) coupled to a gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer. In inter-storm conditions, stream DOM is derived from the flushing of soil DOM, while during storm events, the modification of the distribution of chemical biomarkers allows the identification of three additional mechanisms. The first one corresponds to the destabilization of microbial biofilms due to the increase in water velocity, resulting in the fleeting export of a microbial pool. The second mechanism corresponds to the erosion of soils and river banks, leading to a partition of organic matter between particulate and dissolved phases. The third mechanism is linked to the increase in water velocity in soils that could induce the erosion of macropore walls, leading to an in-soil partition between soil microparticles and dissolved phase. The contribution of this in-soil erosive process would be linked to the magnitude of the hydraulic gradient following the rise of the water table and could persist after the recession, which could explain why the return to inter-storm composition of DOM does not follow the same temporal scheme as the discharge. These results are the most important factors in understanding the transfer of nutrients and micropollutants at the soil–river interfaces during the hot moments that are storm events.

Short summary
The origin of stream dissolved organic matter (DOM) in a lowland headwater catchment was investigated using high-frequency sampling combined with chemical biomarker analysis. Inter-storm stream DOM corresponds to the flushing of soil DOM reservoirs, while storm stream DOM would also result from three additional mechanisms: biofilm destabilization, surface and sub-surface erosion.
Final-revised paper