Articles | Volume 9, issue 6
Research article
18 Jun 2012
Research article |  | 18 Jun 2012

Dissolved organic carbon dynamics in a UK podzolic moorland catchment: linking storm hydrochemistry, flow path analysis and sorption experiments

M. I. Stutter, S. M. Dunn, and D. G. Lumsdon

Abstract. Better knowledge of spatial and temporal delivery of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in small catchments is required to understand the mechanisms behind reported long-term changes in C fluxes from some peatlands. We monitored two storms with contrasting seasons and antecedent conditions in a small upland UK moorland catchment. We examined DOC concentrations and specific UV absorbance (SUVA at 285 nm), together with solute concentrations required to undertake end-member mixing analyses to define dominant flow paths contributing to streamflow. This was combined with laboratory soil-solution equilibrations. We aimed to resolve how seasonal biogeochemical processing of DOC and flowpath changes in organo-mineral soils combine to affect DOC exported via the stream. An August storm following a dry period gave maximum DOC concentration of 10 mg l−1. Small DOC:DON ratios (16–28) and SUVA (2.7–3.6 l mg−1 m−1) was attributed to filtration of aromatic compounds associated with up to 53% B horizon flow contributions. This selective filtration of high SUVA DOC was reproduced in the experimental batch equilibration system. For a November storm, wetter antecedent soil conditions led to enhanced soil connectivity with the stream and seven times greater DOC stream-load (maximum concentration 16 mg l−1). This storm had a 63% O horizon flow contribution at its peak, limited B horizon buffering and consequently more aromatic DOC (SUVA 3.9–4.5 l mg−1 m−1 and DOC:DON ratio 35–43). We suggest that simple mixing of waters from different flow paths cannot alone explain the differences in DOC compositions between August and November and biogeochemical processing of DOC is required to fully explain the observed stream DOC dynamics. This preliminary evidence is in contrast to other studies proposing hydrological controls on the nature of DOC delivered to streams. Although our study is based only on two storms of very different hydrological and biogeochemical periods, this should promote wider study of DOC biogeochemical alteration in headwaters so that this be better incorporated in modelling to predict the impacts of changes in DOC delivery to, and fate in, aquatic systems.

Final-revised paper