Seeing the light: The effects of particles, dissolved materials, and temperature on in situ measurements of DOM fluorescence in rivers and streams

Bryan D. Downing, Brian A. Pellerin, Brian A. Bergamaschi, John Franco Saraceno, Tamara E.C. Kraus

Limnol. Oceanogr. Methods 10:767-775 (2012) | DOI: 10.4319/lom.2012.10.767

ABSTRACT: Field-deployable sensors designed to continuously measure the fluorescence of colored dissolved organic matter (FDOM) in situ are of growing interest. However, the ability to make FDOM measurements that are comparable across sites and over time requires a clear understanding of how instrument characteristics and environmental conditions affect the measurements. In particular, the effects of water temperature and light attenuation by both colored dissolved material and suspended particles may be significant in settings such as rivers and streams. Using natural standard reference materials, we characterized the performance of four commercially-available FDOM sensors under controlled laboratory conditions over ranges of temperature, dissolved organic matter (DOM) concentrations, and turbidity that spanned typical environmental ranges. We also examined field data from several major rivers to assess how often attenuation artifacts or temperature effects might be important. We found that raw (uncorrected) FDOM values were strongly affected by the light attenuation that results from dissolved substances and suspended particles as well as by water temperature. Observed effects of light attenuation and temperature agreed well with theory. Our results show that correction of measured FDOM values to account for these effects is necessary and feasible over much of the range of temperature, DOM concentration, and turbidity commonly encountered in surface waters. In most cases, collecting high-quality FDOM measurements that are comparable through time and between sites will require concurrent measurements of temperature and turbidity, and periodic discrete sample collection for laboratory measurement of DOM.