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The impact of rainfall events, catchment characteristics and estuarine processes on the export of dissolved organic matter from two lowland rivers and their shared estuary

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Terrestrially-derived dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and nitrogen (DON) transported by rivers have been recognised as contributors to aquatic nutrient burdens, and can be of importance in rivers and estuaries already impacted by anthropogenic inorganic nutrient discharges. The concentration of DOC and DON and the flux of both to the estuary and ultimately the coastal zone is dependent upon many factors including rainfall, catchment land use, and biological processes. DOC and DON concentrations together with nitrate plus nitrite and ammonium concentrations were measured in the anthropogenically-impacted estuary Christchurch Harbour (UK) and at sites in the lower reaches of its two source rivers, the Hampshire Avon and the Stour, at weekly intervals for a year during which time several extreme rainfall events occurred. A series of transects along the estuary were also performed after weekly sampling was completed. DOC concentrations were correlated between both rivers and the estuary and were positively related to increases in river flow, but DON concentrations revealed a more complicated picture. Peak instantaneous fluxes of DOC and DON exceeded 60,000 kg C d−1 and 7000 kg N d−1 respectively both in the Stour and the estuary during high flow periods. The sources of both and routes by which they enter the aquatic system may account for the differences in dynamics, with flushing of superficial soils being a key source of DOC and point sources such as sewage treatment works being proposed as sources of DON. Removal processes within the estuary were also of importance for DON concentrations whilst DOC behaved more conservatively with some evidence of local production within the estuary. Estimated annual loads of DON and DOC to the coastal zone from Christchurch Harbour were 118 kg N km−2 y−1 and 2296 kg C km−2 y−1.
Original languageEnglish
Article number139481
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date16 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 2020


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