Ruhala, S. S. and J. P. Zarnetske. 2017. Using in-situ optical sensors to study dissolved organic carbon dynamics of streams and watersheds: A review. Science of The Total Environment 575:713-723.
It is important to understand how dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is processed and transported through stream networks because DOC is a master water quality variable in aquatic ecosystems. High-frequency sampling is necessary to capture important, rapid shifts in DOC source, concentration, and composition (i.e. quality) in streams. Until recently, this high-frequency sampling was logistically difficult or impossible. However, this type of sampling can now be conducted using in-situ optical measurements through long-term, field-deployable fluorometers and spectrophotometers. The optical data collected from these instruments can quantify both DOC concentration and composition properties (e.g., specific ultra-violet absorbance at 254 nm, spectral slope ratio, and fluorescence index). Previously, the use of these sensors was limited to a small number of specialized users, mainly in Europe and North America, where they were used predominantly in marine DOC studies as well as water treatment and management infrastructure. However, recent field demonstrations across a wide range of river systems reveals a large potential for the use of these instruments in freshwater environments, heightening interest and demand across multiple environmental research and management disciplines. Hence, this review provides an up-to-date synthesis on 1) the use of spectroscopy as a diagnostic tool in stream DOC studies, 2) the instrumentation, its applications, potential limitations and future considerations, and 3) the new watershed DOC research directions made possible via these in-situ optical sensors.
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