Spatio-temporal controls of dissolved organic carbon stream water concentrations

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Elevated concentration and high variance of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in surface waters are a challenge for the production of drinking water. Past studies have indicated a dominant role of wetlands in DOC mobilization, but have mainly been focused on boreal and oceanic catchments. Here we analyze the observational DOC time series from 89 temperate humid catchments which drain into German drinking water reservoirs. We characterize the DOC concentration median and variability and utilize partial least squares regression in order to quantify the relation to catchment characteristics such as land use, climate, and topography. We found that the long-term median DOC concentration in the catchment is well predicted by the 90th percentile of the distribution of the topographic wetness index (0.9P TWI) over the entire catchment area. The 0.9P TWI can be directly connected to the abundance of riparian wetlands in the catchments. DOC concentration variability (represented as the ratio of the interquartile range and the median concentrations) was also found to be well predictable. Concentration variability was highest in cold and wet catchments with a high 0.9P TWI. Here we also found stronger correlations between DOC concentrations and discharge, with positive concentration-discharge patterns. Catchments with elevated DOC-concentration variance also exhibited the most severe long-term increases in concentrations. Our results thus indicate that, in temperate climates, riparian wetlands can be the dominant source zones of DOC and control the hydrological mobilization and potentially also the spatial difference in long-term concentration trends observed in surface waters. We conclude that the dominance of topography and climatic conditions in controlling spatio-temporal patterns in DOC concentrations leads to very limited management options.




Musolff, A., Fleckenstein, J. H., Opitz, M., Büttner, O., Kumar, R., & Tittel, J. (2018). Spatio-temporal controls of dissolved organic carbon stream water concentrations. Journal of Hydrology, 566, 205–215.

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