Identifying dissolved organic carbon sources at a gaged headwater catchment using FDOM sensors

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Jonathan M Malzone, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, United States and James B Shanley, USGS New Hampshire/Vermont Water Science Center, Pembroke, NH, United States
The United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) W-9 gage at the headwaters of Sleepers River, Vermont has been monitored for dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration for more than 20 years. However, the sources of this DOC during base flow and hydrologic events remain unclear. The major objectives of this research were to identify sources of DOC during storm events and to explain the observed DOC-streamflow counterclockwise hysteresis during hydrologic events. Two main hypotheses to explain hysteresis during hydrologic events were tested: (1) distant headwater wetlands are the major DOC source, which lags behind peak flow due to travel time; and (2) the entire watershed contributes to the DOC at the gage, but the response of DOC lags behind the period when groundwater contributes most to streamflow. Sources of DOC were tracked using fluorescent dissolved organic matter (FDOM) sensors in surface water and groundwater wells. Wells were installed at four depths, 0.3, 0.6, 0.9, and 1.2 m, at four sites: a peaty low-gradient riparian area near the headwaters; a mid-hillslope area on a long hillslope mid-watershed; a near-stream area on a long hillslope mid-watershed; and a low-gradient tributary confluence area just above the gage. During storm events, FDOM and hydraulic head were measured at the nested groundwater wells. Samples for DOC analysis were also taken to determine the relationship between FDOM and DOC. Results suggest that both distant sources and the greater watershed played a role in the transport of DOC to the W-9 gage. Distant peaty sources dominated during large storms and contributed the highest surface water FDOM measurements. The peak FDOM at the gage was therefore best described as a result of transport. However, export from these distant sources terminated rapidly and did not explain continued elevated FDOM at the gage. Groundwater across the watershed exhibited hysteresis analogous to that in the stream itself, with FDOM peaking as head receded. As groundwater is recharged, the water table intersects more carbon rich soil layers. Pre-event water is flushed out first before event water mobilizes DOC, causing the groundwater hysteresis. High FDOM groundwater discharging to the stream likely sustained elevated FDOM at the gage. The gage hysteresis, therefore, seems to be a result of both hypotheses tested.