Dissolved organic matter (DOM) is a large and complex mixture of compounds with source inputs that differ with location, season, and environmental conditions. Here, we investigated drivers of DOM composition changes in a marsh‐dominated estuary off the southeastern United States. Monthly water samples were collected at a riverine and estuarine site from September 2015 to September 2016, and bulk, optical, and molecular analyses were conducted on samples before and after dark incubations. Results showed that river discharge was the primary driver changing the DOM composition at the mouth of the Altamaha River. For discharge higher than ~150 m3/s, dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations and the terrigenous character of the DOM increased approximately linearly with river flow. For low discharge conditions, a clear signature of salt marsh‐derived compounds was observed in the river. At the head of Sapelo Sound, changes in DOM composition were primarily driven by river discharge and possibly by summer algae blooms. Microbial consumption of DOC was larger during periods of high discharge at both sites, potentially due to the higher mobilization and influx of fresh material to the system. The Georgia coast was hit by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, which resulted in a large input of carbon to the estuary. The DOC concentration was ~2 times higher and DOM composition was more aromatic with a stronger terrigenous signature compared to the seasonal maximum observed earlier in the year during peak river discharge conditions. This suggests that extreme events notably impact DOM quantity and quality in estuarine regions.
In 2016, Hurricane Matthew accounted for 25% of the annual riverine C loading to the Neuse River Estuary‐Pamlico Sound, in eastern North Carolina. Unlike inland watersheds, dissolved organic carbon (DOC) was the dominant component of C flux from this coastal watershed and stable carbon isotope and chromophoric dissolved organic matter evidence indicated the estuary and sound were dominated by wetland‐derived terrigenous organic matter sources for several months following the storm. Persistence of wetland‐derived DOC enabled its degradation to carbon dioxide (CO2), which was supported by sea‐to‐air CO2fluxes measured in the sound weeks after the storm. Under future increasingly extreme weather events such as Hurricane Matthew, and most recently Hurricane Florence (September 2018), degradation of terrestrial DOC in floodwaters could increase flux of CO2from estuaries and coastal waters to the atmosphere.more » « less
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Publisher / Repository:
- DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
- Date Published:
- Journal Name:
- Geophysical Research Letters
- Page Range / eLocation ID:
- p. 2654-2661
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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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.
Long‐term ecological research can resolve effects of disturbance on ecosystem dynamics by capturing the scale of disturbance and interactions with environmental changes. To quantify how disturbances interact with long‐term directional changes (sea‐level rise, freshwater restoration), we studied 17 yr of monthly dissolved organic carbon (DOC), total nitrogen (TN), and phosphorus (TP) concentrations and bacterioplankton productivity across freshwater‐to‐marine estuary gradients exposed to multiple disturbance events (e.g., droughts, fire, hurricanes, and low‐temperature anomalies) and long‐term increases in water levels. By studying two neighboring drainages that differ in hydrologic connectivity, we additionally tested how disturbance legacies are shaped by hydrologic connectivity. We predicted that disturbance events would interact with long‐term increases in water levels in freshwater and marine ecosystems to increase spatiotemporal similarity (i.e., synchrony) of organic matter, nutrients, and microbial activities. Wetlands along the larger, deeper, and tidally influenced Shark River Slough (SRS) drainage had higher and more variable DOC, TN, and TP concentrations than wetlands along the smaller, shallower, tidally restricted Taylor River Slough/Panhandle (TS/Ph) drainage. Along SRS, DOC concentrations declined with proximity to coast, and increased in magnitude and variability following drought and flooding in 2015 and a hurricane in 2017. Along TS/Ph, DOC concentrations varied by site (higher in marine than freshwater wetlands) but not year. In both drainages, increases in TN from upstream freshwater marshes occurred following fire in 2008 and droughts in 2010 and 2015, whereas downstream increases in TP occurred with coastal storm surge from hurricanes in 2005 and 2017. Decreases in DOC:TN and DOC:TP were explained by increased TN and TP. Increases in bacterioplankton productivity occurred throughout both drainages following low‐temperature events (2010 and 2011) and a hurricane (2017). Long‐term TN and TP concentrations and bacterioplankton productivity were correlated (
r> 0.5) across a range of sampling distances (1–50 km), indicating spatiotemporal synchrony. DOC concentrations were not synchronized across space or time. Our study advances disturbance ecology theory by illustrating how disturbance events interact with long‐term environmental changes and hydrologic connectivity to determine the magnitude and extent of disturbance legacies. Understanding disturbance legacies will enhance prediction and enable more effective management of rapidly changing ecosystems.
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Extreme events such as hurricanes and tropical storms often result in large fluxes of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) to estuaries. Precipitation associated with tropical storms may be increasing in the southeastern U.S., which can potentially impact dissolved organic matter (DOM) dynamics and cycling in coastal systems. Here, DOM composition at the Altamaha River and Estuary (Georgia, U.S.A.) was investigated over multiple years capturing seasonal variations in river discharge, high precipitation events, and the passage of two hurricanes which resulted in substantial storm surges. Optical measurements of DOM indicate that the terrigenous signature in the estuary is linearly related to freshwater content and is similar after extreme events with or without a storm surge and during peak river flow. Molecular level analysis revealed significant differences, however, with a large increase of highly aromatic compounds after extreme events exceeding what would be expected by freshwater content alone. Although extreme events are often followed by increased DOC biodegradation, the terrigenous material added during those events does not appear to be more labile than the remainder of the DOM pool that was captured by ultrahigh-resolution mass spectrometry analysis. This suggests that the added terrigenous organic matter may be exported to the coastal ocean, while a fraction of the organic matter that co-varied with the terrigenous DOM may contribute to the increased biomineralization in the estuary, with implications to carbon processing in coastal areas.more » « less