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The influence of slope and peatland vegetation type on riverine dissolved organic carbon and water colour at different scales

Parry, L.E., Chapman, P.J., Palmer, S.M., Wallage, Z.E., Wynne, H., Holden, J.
The Science of the total environment 2015 v.527-528 pp. 530-539
aerial photography, basins, burning, business enterprises, carbon, color, cost effectiveness, digital elevation models, dissolved organic carbon, drainage, peatlands, planning, remote sensing, river water, soil types, vegetation cover, vegetation types, watersheds
Peatlands are important sources of fluvial carbon. Previous research has shown that riverine dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations are largely controlled by soil type. However, there has been little work to establish the controls of riverine DOC within blanket peatlands that have not undergone major disturbance from drainage or burning. A total of 119 peatland catchments were sampled for riverine DOC and water colour across three drainage basins during six repeated sampling campaigns. The topographic characteristics of each catchment were determined from digital elevation models. The dominant vegetation cover was mapped using 0.5m resolution colour infrared aerial images, with ground-truthed validation revealing 82% accuracy. Forward and backward stepwise regression modelling showed that mean slope was a strong (and negative) determinant of DOC and water colour in blanket peatland river waters. There was a weak role for plant functional type in determining DOC and water colour. At the basin scale, there were major differences between the models depending on the basin. The dominance of topographic predictors of DOC found in our study, combined with a weaker role of vegetation type, paves the way for developing improved planning tools for water companies operating in peatland catchments. Using topographic data and aerial imagery it will be possible to predict which tributaries will typically yield lower DOC concentrations and which are therefore more suitable and cost-effective as raw water intakes.