Abundance and Characterization of Dissolved Organic Carbon in Suburban Streams of Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
German Mora and Matthew Fazekas, Goucher College, Baltimore, MD, United States
The contribution of streams and rivers to the carbon cycle is significant, transporting to the oceans ~1.4 Pg C/yr, with dissolved carbon corresponding to as much as 0.7 Pg C/yr. Changes in land use have the potential effect of modifying this flux, particularly in urban areas where impervious areas are common. To investigate the effect of urbanization on riverine carbon transport, we studied four first-order streams in Towson, a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland, USA. The watersheds from the studied streams exhibit different levels of urbanization as measured by the percentage of impervious areas. Samples from these four streams were taken weekly, and several chemical constituents were measured either in the field or in the laboratory. These constituents included nitrate, dissolved organic nitrogen, pH, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), total carbon, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), phosphate, the carbon isotopic compositions of DOC and DIC, and fluorescence intensity of the DOC. Results show that DOC concentrations were consistently below 5 mg C/L regardless of the level of imperviousness of the watershed. Similarly, carbon isotope ratios were consistent across the studied streams, with values centered around -26.4 per mil, thus suggesting a significant influx of soil-derived organic carbon originated from C3 plants that are common in the watersheds. Confirming this interpretation, fluorescence spectroscopy data suggest a humic-like origin for the DOC of the streams, thus pointing to the heterotrophic nature of the streams. The combined results suggest that the studied streams exhibit similar DOC concentrations, carbon isotopic values, and fluorescence spectra, despite their level of impervious surfaces in their watersheds.