Variation in riverine dissolved organic matter (DOM) optical quality during snowmelt- and rainfall-driven events in a forested wetland watershed

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The spring snowmelt period is an important time for organic matter mobilization and export in peatland and wetland dominated systems. The hydrologic flowpaths that transport melting snow and soil water to surface waters can vary over relatively short time periods (several days to weeks) depending on the timing and rate of melt and the occurrence of freeze–thaw cycles and rain-on-snow events. Dynamic flowpaths can alter dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations and dissolved organic matter (DOM) optical properties in surface waters due to differential melt and mobilization of snow, ice, and soil waters. In 2018 and 2020, we measured the DOC concentration and DOM optical properties in a woody wetland-dominated watershed in northern Minnesota during spring snowmelt (2018 & 2020) and early growing season (2018 only) events. We examined patterns in riverine DOC, DOM, and hydrochemical tracers across event hydrographs to infer changes in hydrologic connectivity across this seasonal transition. Measurements of riverine DOM optical properties, calcium concentration, and water isotopic composition indicated that DOM shifted from a primarily groundwater source and more fresh character during the dormant season to a more shallow wetland soil source and recalcitrant character during the early growing season. Seasonal variations in DOM optical properties and highly complex hysteresis patterns of DOM indices (e.g., Fluorescence Index, Humification Index, β/α, E250:E365, and the fluorescence peak ratio T:C) during individual events may reflect spatial heterogeneity in soil thawing throughout the watershed and temporal variations in water table elevation, affecting flowpath depths and connectivity to DOM pools within the soil profile. This study provides an important seasonal and event-scale baseline against which to evaluate potential changes in riverine DOM quantity and quality associated with predicted changes in climate and snow cover in organic matter-rich ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number128988
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
LAR and DLK received funding from the Minnesota Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund [grant number ENRTF 024-A] and the National Council on Air and Stream Improvement [contract number 55360]. DLK received additional support from the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station [grant number MN-042]. Funding sources had no involvement in the study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the article for publication. We thank Dr. Bill Arnold and Dr. Meghan O’Connor for assistance with fluorescence analyses.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier B.V.


  • DOM
  • EEMs
  • Fluorescence
  • Organic matter
  • Snowmelt event


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