Using dissolved organic matter fluorescence to identify the provenance of nutrients in a lowland catchment; the River Thames, England

Old, G.H.; Naden, P.S.; Harman, M.; Bowes, M.J.; Roberts, C.; Scarlett, P.M.; Nicholls, D.J.E.; Armstrong, L.K.; Wickham, H.D.; Read, D.S.. 2019 Using dissolved organic matter fluorescence to identify the provenance of nutrients in a lowland catchment; the River Thames, England. Science of the Total Environment, 653. 1240-1252.

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Catchment based solutions are being sought to mitigate water quality pressures and achieve multiple benefits but their success depends on a sound understanding of catchment functioning. Novel approaches to monitoring and data analysis are urgently needed. In this paper we explore the potential of river water fluorescence at the catchment scale in understanding nutrient concentrations, sources and pathways. Data were collected from across the River Thames basin from January 2012 to March 2015. Analysing emission excitation matrices (EEMs) using both PARAFAC and optimal area averaging produced consistent results for humic-like component 1 and tryptophan-like component 4 in the absence of a subset of samples that exhibited an unusual peak; illustrating the importance of inspecting the entire EEM before using peak averaging methods. Strong relationships between fluorescence components and dissolved organic carbon (DOC), soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP), and ammonium clearly demonstrated its potential, in this study basin, as a field based surrogate for nutrients. Analysing relationships between fluorescence, catchment characteristics and boron from across the basin enabled new insights into the provenance of nutrients. These include evidence for diffuse sources of DOC from near surface hydrological pathways (i.e. soil horizons); point source inputs of nutrients from sewage effluent discharges; and diffuse contributions of nutrients from agriculture and/or sewage (e.g. septic tanks). The information gained by broad scale catchment wide monitoring of fluorescence could support catchment managers in (a) prioritising subcatchments for nutrient mitigation; (b) providing information on relative nutrient source contributions; and (c) providing evidence of the effectiveness of investment in pollution mitigation measures. The collection of high resolution fluorescence data at the catchment scale and, in particular, over shorter event timescales would complement broad scale assessments by enhancing our hydro-biogeochemical process understanding.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Hydro-climate Risks (Science Area 2017-)
Soils and Land Use (Science Area 2017-)
Water Resources (Science Area 2017-)
UKCEH Fellows
ISSN: 0048-9697
Additional Keywords: dissolved organic carbon, parallel factor analysis, catchment management, tryptophan-like, humic-like
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 05 Dec 2018 15:39 +0 (UTC)

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