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  1. Abstract

    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% increasemore »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.

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  2. Abstract

    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 inputmore »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.

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  3. 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, whilemore »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.« less
  4. Uncovering which biogeochemical processes have a critical role controlling dissolved organic matter (DOM) compositional changes in complex estuarine environments remains a challenge. In this context, the aim of this study is to characterize the dominant patterns of variability modifying the DOM composition in an estuary off the Southeastern U.S. We collected water samples during three seasons (July and October 2014 and April 2015) at both high and low tides and conducted short- (1 day) and long-term (60 days) dark incubations. Samples were analyzed for bulk DOC concentration, and optical (CDOM) and molecular (FT-ICR MS) compositions and bacterial cells were collected for metatranscriptomics. Results show that the dominant pattern of variability in DOM composition occurs at seasonal scales, likely associated with the seasonality of river discharge. After seasonal variations, long-term biodegradation was found to be comparatively more important in the fall, while tidal variability was the second most important factor correlated to DOM composition in spring, when the freshwater content in the estuary was high. Over shorter time scales, however, the influence of microbial processing was small. Microbial data revealed a similar pattern, with variability in gene expression occurring primarily at the seasonal scale and tidal influence being of secondary importance.more »Our analyses suggest that future changes in the seasonal delivery of freshwater to this system have the potential to significantly impact DOM composition. Changes in residence time may also be important, helping control the relative contribution of tides and long-term biodegradation to DOM compositional changes in the estuary.« less