The interconnected estuarine complex of the Altamaha River and adjacent sounds located in Georgia (USA) functions as a hotspot for organic matter transformation as it is transported to the Atlantic Ocean. Here, we investigated how dissolved organic matter (DOM) composition changes both spatially and seasonally along the estuary and how it influences bacterial processing. Surface samples were collected during high tide at fifteen stations throughout the estuary in April, July, October 2017, and January 2018. Bulk, optical, and molecular analyses were conducted on samples before and after dark incubations to assess DOM sources and transformation patterns in the system. The dominant driver of change in DOM composition was found to be the terrigenous‐marine gradient in organic matter sources. Six distinct clusters were identified based on the terrigenous signature of the DOM pool, explaining 45% of the variance in DOM composition in the system. Bacterial consumption of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) was strongly influenced by DOM composition, with increased degradation rates for DOM with a larger terrigenous character. However, changes in optical properties suggested that less aromatic DOM that co‐varied with the terrigenous material was preferentially degraded. The passage of Hurricane Irma in September 2017 resulted in a 27% ± 7% increase in DOC content, likely due to inundation associated with storm surge and increased local precipitation, and DOC biodegradation was 17% ± 8% higher than during summer. These effects lasted for at least one month after the storm, revealing that hurricanes can have a large impact on DOM composition and cycling in coastal systems.
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Date Published:
- Journal Name:
- Frontiers in Marine Science
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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