Tracking Changes in Dissolved Organic Matter Patterns in Perennial Headwater Streams Throughout a Hydrologic Year Using In-situ Sensors and Optical Properties

Monday, 14 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Alec Armstrong and Steven Epting, University of Maryland College Park, College Park, MD, United States
Dissolved organic matter (DOM) plays a central role in freshwater streams but key questions remain unanswered about temporal patterns in its quantity and composition. DOM in perennial streams in the temperate zone is a complex mixture reflecting a variety of sources such as leached plant material, organic matter from surrounding soils, and microbial processes in the streams themselves. Headwater perennial streams in the Tuckahoe Creek watershed of the Atlantic coastal plain (Maryland, USA) drain a mosaic of land cover types including row crops, forests, and both forested and marshy small depressional wetlands. Wetland-stream surface hydrologic connections generally occur between mid-fall and late spring, coinciding with peak wetland hydrologic expression (i.e. highest groundwater levels and surface inundation extent). When inundated, these wetlands contain high DOM concentrations, and surface connections may serve as conduits for downstream export. We hypothesized that changes in wetland-stream surface hydrologic connectivity would affect patterns of DOM concentration and composition in these streams. We deployed 6 sondes equipped with fluorescent DOM sensors in 4 perennial streams, 1 forested wetland, and the larger downstream channel draining all study sites for the 2015 water year. The 4 headwater streams drain areas containing forested wetlands and have documented temporary channel connections. Combined with baseflow and stormflow sampling, the sondes provided 15 minute estimates of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations. This resolution provided insights into patterns of DOC concentration across temporal scales from daily rhythms to seasonal changes, during both baseflow and storm conditions. Discrete measurements of absorbance and fluorescence provided information about DOM composition throughout the study. Together these measurements give a detailed record of DOM dynamics in multiple perennial headwater streams for an entire year. This information could inform future studies, such as investigations into stream network scale thresholds in DOM cycling, carbon cycling modelling for the study region, or understanding the impact of wetlands sometimes considered geographically isolated on downstream ecosystems.