Removal of chromophoric dissolved organic matter under combined photochemical and microbial degradation as a response to different irradiation intensities

Theis Kragh*, Kaj Sand-Jensen, Emil Kristensen, Ole Pedersen, Mikkel Madsen-Østerbye

*Corresponding author for this work

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Throughout the freshwater continuum, Dissolved Organic Carbon (DOC) and the colored fraction, Chromophoric Dissolved Organic Material (CDOM), are continuously being added, removed, and transformed, resulting in changes in the chromophoricity and lability of organic matter over time. We examined, experimentally, the effect of increasing irradiation-intensities on the combined photochemical and microbial degradation of CDOM and DOC. This was done by using a simulated mixed water column: aged water from a humic lake was exposed to four irradiation-intensities – representing winter, early and late spring, and summer conditions (0.10, 0.16, 0.36, and 0.58 W/m2) – and compared with dark controls over 37 days. We found a linear relationship between CDOM degradation and irradiation-intensities up to 0.36 W/m2; the degradation rate saturated at higher intensities, both at specific wavelengths and for broader intervals. After 37 days at high irradiation-intensity, CDOM absorption of irradiation at 340 nm had been reduced by 41%; 48% of DOC had been removed and DOC degradation continued to increase. Aromaticity (SUVA254) declined significantly over 37 days at the two lowest but not at the two highest UV- intensities; levels in unexposed control water remained constant. Direct observations of the humic lake showed that CDOM absorption of irradiation (340 nm) declined by 27% from winter to summer. A model based on hydrological CDOM input and CDOM degradation calculated from field measurements of UV-radiation and experimental CDOM degradation with UV-exposure from sunlight accurately predicted the annual course as observed in the lake. With no external CDOM input, 92% of the CDOM could be degraded in a year. The results support the notion that combined photochemical and microbial CDOM degradation can be remarkably higher in lakes than previously thought and that humic lakes retain their color due to light absorption by ongoing CDOM input.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Environmental Sciences
Pages (from-to)76-86
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

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  • Biodegradation
  • Brownification
  • Carbon cycling
  • CDOM
  • DOC
  • Humic lake
  • Photobleaching
  • UV-bleaching


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