Spatio-temporal patterns in the export of dissolved organic carbon and chromophoric dissolved organic matter from a coastal, blackwater river

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Leech D.M., S.H. Ensign, and M. Piehler. 2016. Aquatic Sciences 78(4):823–836.

doi: 10.1007/s00027-016-0474-3


We examined seasonal and spatial patterns in dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM) in the Chowan River watershed, North Carolina, a blackwater river which discharges into the second largest estuary in the United States, the Albemarle–Pamlico Estuarine System. From April 2008 to May 2010, DOC concentration did not significantly vary across seasons (range 7.69–30.39 mg L−1); however, CDOM molecular size and aromaticity increased throughout the spring, decreased during the summer and fall, and remained relatively low in the winter. Spectral slope ratios suggested microbial processing of CDOM in the spring and photodegradation of CDOM in the summer and fall. Spatially, DOC and CDOM concentrations were similar in the mainstem and at the mouths of two tributaries, Bennetts Creek and Wiccacon River, but were significantly higher upstream on the tributaries. DOC concentration was positively correlated with CDOM absorbance coefficients at 254 and 350 nm; however, these optical proxies explained only ~60 % of the variance. DOC and CDOM absorption loads to the Albemarle Sound ranged from 2.63 × 1010 g year−1 and 9.84 × 1010 m2 year−1, respectively, in a dry year and 7.9 × 1010 g year−1 and 2.2 × 1011 m2 year−1, respectively, in a wet year, which are comparable to non-blackwater rivers with larger watersheds. Blackwater rivers may therefore represent “hotspots” in coastal carbon chemistry, with seasonal variations in the quality and quantity of DOC and CDOM influencing estuarine food web dynamics and net ecosystem metabolism.