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Surface waters play a potentially important role in the global carbon balance. Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) fluxes are a major transfer of terrestrial carbon to river systems, and the fate of DOC in aquatic systems is poorly constrained. We used a unique combination of spatially distributed sampling of three DOC fractions throughout a river network and modeling to quantify the net removal of terrestrial DOC during a summer base flow period. We found that aquatic reactivity of terrestrial DOC leading to net loss is low, closer to conservative chloride than to reactive nitrogen. Net removal occurred mainly from the hydrophobic organic acid fraction, while hydrophilic and transphilic acids showed no net change, indicating that partitioning of bulk DOC into different fractions is critical for understanding terrestrial DOC removal. These findings suggest that river systems may have only a modest ability to alter the amounts of terrestrial DOC delivered to coastal zones.
Wollheim, W. M., Stewart, R. J., Aiken, G. R., Butler, K. D., Morse, N. B., & Salisbury, J. (2015). Removal of terrestrial DOC in aquatic ecosystems of a temperate river network. Geophysical Research Letters, 42(16), 6671–6679. https://doi.org/10.1002/2015GL064647