Dissolved organic carbon mobilisation in relation to variable discharges and environmental flows in a highly regulated lowland river

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Journal Article
Marine and Freshwater Research, 2012, 63 (12), pp. 1218 - 1230
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The relationships between discharge and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) have been extensively studied in rainfall runoff-driven stream systems. Less is known about discharge and DOC relationships in river systems dependent on floodplain inundation. We examined DOC dynamics and mobilisation over low discharge periods and several larger discharge events in the highly regulated lowland Namoi River, Australia. Stable isotope signatures (δ 13C) of various water-column fractions (e.g. 200μm, fine particulate organic matter) were used to determine the sources of DOC. DOC concentrations over low discharge periods were fairly similar among sites and ranged between 5 and 10mgL-1. Concentrations during a high-discharge event increased substantially with a mean of 20.4mgL-1 and a maximum of 44mgL-1. Significant positive linear relationships were found between DOC concentrations and discharge (P<0.001, r2≤0.45). The 13C composition of DOC sampled across the three sites (e.g.-26.2‰) suggests a mixture of terrestrial and aquatic sources, with little downstream variation; however, we would envisage that during periods of high discharge allochthonous sources would dominate. Environmental flows (that are ecologically beneficial, potentially reversing changes brought about by flow regulation) have been allocated to the river, with the intention to increase the amount of DOC delivered to the river. The relationship between DOC and discharge was used to estimate DOC loads to the river under different modelled flow-management scenarios, including without environmental flow, with environmental flow, and simulated natural (low development) flow. On the basis of the modelling results, environmental flows should increase the amount of allochthonous DOC transported within the river in years with moderate and large flow events. Years with low flows did not deliver large loads of allochthonous DOC. The present results showed the potential variability in DOC delivery in relation to floodplain inundation in a lowland river that may not otherwise be detected in rainfall/runoff-driven headwater streams. © 2012 CSIRO.
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