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Quality and reactivity of dissolved organic matter in a Mediterranean river across hydrological and spatial gradients

Ejarque, Elisabet, Freixa, Anna, Vazquez, Eusebi, Guarch, Alba, Amalfitano, Stefano, Fazi, Stefano, RomanĂ­, Anna M., Butturini, Andrea
The Science of the total environment 2017 v.599-600 pp. 1802-1812
carbon cycle, dissolved organic matter, drought, flooded conditions, floods, fluorescence, rivers, spatial variation
Understanding DOM transport and reactivity in rivers is essential to having a complete picture of the global carbon cycle. In this study, we explore the effects of hydrological variability and downstream transport on dissolved organic matter (DOM) dynamics in a Mediterranean river. We sampled the main stem of the river Tordera from the source to the sea, over a range of fifteen hydrological conditions including extreme events (flood and drought). By exploring spatial and temporal gradients of DOM fluorescence properties, river hydrology was found to be a significant predictor of DOM spatial heterogeneity. An additional space-resolved mass balance analysis performed on four contrasting hydrological conditions revealed that this was due to a shift in the biogeochemical function of the river. Flood conditions caused a conservative transport of DOM, generating a homogeneous, humic-like spatial profile of DOM quality. Lower flows induced a non-conservative, reactive transport of DOM, which enhanced the spatial heterogeneity of DOM properties. Moreover, the downstream evolution of DOM chemostatic behaviour revealed that the role of hydrology in regulating DOM properties increased gradually downstream, indicating an organised inter-dependency between the spatial and the temporal dimensions. Overall, our findings reveal that riverine DOM dynamics is in constant change owing to varying hydrological conditions, and emphasize that in order to fully understand the role of rivers in the global carbon cycle, it is necessary to take into account the full range of hydrological variability, from floods to droughts.