Articles | Volume 13, issue 18
Research article
28 Sep 2016
Research article |  | 28 Sep 2016

Shift in the chemical composition of dissolved organic matter in the Congo River network

Thibault Lambert, Steven Bouillon, François Darchambeau, Philippe Massicotte, and Alberto V. Borges

Abstract. The processing of terrestrially derived dissolved organic matter (DOM) during downstream transport in fluvial networks is poorly understood. Here, we report a dataset of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations and DOM composition (stable carbon isotope ratios, absorption and fluorescence properties) acquired along a 1700 km transect in the middle reach of the Congo River basin. Samples were collected in the mainstem and its tributaries during high-water (HW) and falling-water (FW) periods. DOC concentrations and DOM composition along the mainstem were found to differ between the two periods because of a reduced lateral mixing between the central water masses of the Congo River and DOM-rich waters from tributaries and also likely because of a greater photodegradation during FW as water residence time (WRT) increased. Although the Cuvette Centrale wetland (one of the world's largest flooded forests) continuously releases highly aromatic DOM in streams and rivers of the Congo Basin, the downstream transport of DOM was found to result in an along-stream gradient from aromatic to aliphatic compounds. The characterization of DOM through parallel factor analysis (PARAFAC) suggests that this transition results from (1) the losses of aromatic compounds by photodegradation and (2) the production of aliphatic compounds by biological reworking of terrestrial DOM. Finally, this study highlights the critical importance of the river–floodplain connectivity in tropical rivers in controlling DOM biogeochemistry at a large spatial scale and suggests that the degree of DOM processing during downstream transport is a function of landscape characteristics and WRT.

Short summary
This paper aims to investigate the spatial variability in dissolved organic matter (DOM) in terms of both concentration and composition in the Congo River network. Stable carbon isotopes and absorption and fluorescent properties of DOM were used as proxies for DOM composition. This study shows that DOM degradation within the Congo Basin results in the transition from aromatic to aliphatic DOM as well as the role of landscape and water residence time on this transition.
Final-revised paper