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Clearing the waters: Evaluating the need for site-specific field fluorescence corrections based on turbidity measurements

April 24, 2017

In situ fluorescent dissolved organic matter (fDOM) measurements have gained increasing popularity as a proxy for dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations in streams. One challenge to accurate fDOM measurements in many streams is light attenuation due to suspended particles. Downing et al. (2012) evaluated the need for corrections to compensate for particle interference on fDOM measurements using a single sediment standard in a laboratory study. The application of those results to a large river improved unfiltered field fDOM accuracy. We tested the same correction equation in a headwater tropical stream and found that it overcompensated fDOM when turbidity exceeded ∼300 formazin nephelometric units (FNU). Therefore, we developed a site-specific, field-based fDOM correction equation through paired in situ fDOM measurements of filtered and unfiltered streamwater. The site-specific correction increased fDOM accuracy up to a turbidity as high as 700 FNU, the maximum observed in this study. The difference in performance between the laboratory-based correction equation of Downing et al. (2012) and our site-specific, field-based correction equation likely arises from differences in particle size distribution between the sediment standard used in the lab (silt) and that observed in our study (fine to medium sand), particularly during high flows. Therefore, a particle interference correction equation based on a single sediment type may not be ideal when field sediment size is significantly different. Given that field fDOM corrections for particle interference under turbid conditions are a critical component in generating accurate DOC estimates, we describe a way to develop site-specific corrections.