Export of dissolved organic carbon from an upland peatland during storm events: implications for flux estimates
Clark, J. M., Lane, S., Chapman , P. and Adamson, J. (2007) Export of dissolved organic carbon from an upland peatland during storm events: implications for flux estimates. Journal of Hydrology, 347 (3-4). pp. 438-447. ISSN 0022-1694
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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2007.09.030
Most of the dissolved organic carbon (DOC) exported from catchments is transported during storm events. Accurate assessments of DOC fluxes are essential to understand long-term trends in the transport of DOC from terrestrial to aquatic systems, and also the loss of carbon from peatlands to determine changes in the source/sink status of peatland carbon stores. However, many long-term monitoring programmes collect water samples at a frequency (e.g. weekly/monthly) less than the time period of a typical storm event (typically <1–2 days). As widespread observations in catchments dominated by organo-mineral soils have shown that both concentration and flux of DOC increases during storm events, lower frequency monitoring could result in substantial underestimation of DOC flux as the most dynamic periods of transport are missed. However, our intensive monitoring study in a UK upland peatland catchment showed a contrasting response to these previous studies. Our results showed that (i) DOC concentrations decreased during autumn storm events and showed a poor relationship with flow during other seasons; and that (ii) this decrease in concentrations during autumn storms caused DOC flux estimates based on weekly monitoring data to be over-estimated, rather than under-estimated, because of over rather than under estimation of the flow-weighted mean concentration used in flux calculations. However, as DOC flux is ultimately controlled by discharge volume, and therefore rainfall, and the magnitude of change in discharge was greater than the magnitude of decline in concentrations, DOC flux increased during individual storm events. The implications for long-term DOC trends are therefore contradictory, as increased rainfall could increase flux but cause an overall decrease in DOC concentrations from peatland streams. Care needs to be taken when interpreting long-term trends in DOC flux rather than concentration; as flux is calculated from discharge estimates, and discharge is controlled by rainfall, DOC flux and rainfall/discharge will always be well correlated.