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Simulation of dissolved organic carbon flux in the Penobscot Watershed, Maine

March 5, 2021

Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is an important component of the carbon cycle as a measure of the hydrological transport of carbon between terrestrial carbon pools into soil pools and eventually into streams. As a result, changes in DOC in rivers and streams may indicate alterations in the storage of terrestrial carbon. Exploring the complex interactions between biogeochemical cycling and hydrologic processes, as well as the micro-climate variabilities that impact the rate of DOC fluxes, are challenging because the information is not readily available from in-situ measurements or from empirical models alone. This is particularly true of large-scale watersheds. The Penobscot Watershed is the largest watershed of the Gulf of Maine and the second largest in New England. Its typical soils, with high organic matter and a large forested and wetland landscape, result in higher DOC fluxes than what has been observed previously for most rivers in the northern temperate or boreal zones (Hope et al., 1994; Mulholland, 1997; Aitkenhead and McDowell, 2000).

In this study, we emphasized the simulation of streamflow and DOC fluxes from the Penobscot Watershed (and several tributaries within the Penobscot Watershed) using the spatially distributed process-based Regional Hydro-Ecological Simulation System (RHESSys) model. Simulated results were evaluated using field measurements (streamflow, DOC fluxes) and remotely sensed products (Net Primary Production (NPP) and Leaf Area Index (LAI) from Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). The average DOC flux for the Penobscot Watershed during 2004-2012 using the RHESSys model was 69 kg C/ha/year. The RHESSys simulated DOC flux is shown to correlate well with observed values, as well as with results previously reported from the empirical Load Estimator (LOADEST) model (71 kg C/ha/year) for 2004-2007 (Huntington and Aiken, 2013).

Our simulated results also show a temporal variation in the amount of DOC flux, indicating that the antecedent DOC concentration from one year can impact the DOC export in following years. Thus, DOC concentration is positively correlated with streamflow and antecedent precipitation, in agreement with previous studies (Ågren et al., 2010; Huntington and Aiken, 2013; Tian et al., 2013). The successful application of the rigorous RHESSys model in the Penobscot Watershed makes it a reasonable platform to test future scenarios impacting the hydrology and biogeochemistry within similar large complex watersheds.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Simulation of dissolved organic carbon flux in the Penobscot Watershed, Maine
DOI 10.1016/j.ecohyd.2021.02.005
Authors Shabnam Rouhani, Crystal B. Schaaf, Thomas Huntington, Janet Choate
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecohydrology & Hydrobiology
Series Number
Index ID 70221894
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New England Water Science Center