, Volume 100, Issue 1, pp 121-137

First online:

Sources and ages of dissolved organic matter in peatland streams: evidence from chemistry mixture modelling and radiocarbon data

  • E. TippingAffiliated withCentre for Ecology and Hydrology, Lancaster Environment Centre Email author 
  • , M. F. BillettAffiliated withCentre for Ecology and Hydrology
  • , C. L. BryantAffiliated withNERC Radiocarbon Facility (Environment), Scottish Enterprise Technology Park
  • , S. BuckinghamAffiliated withCentre for Ecology and Hydrology, Lancaster Environment CentreLancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University
  • , S. A. ThackerAffiliated withCentre for Ecology and Hydrology, Lancaster Environment Centre

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Monitoring data over the period 1994–2007 were analysed for three streams (Cottage Hill Sike, CHS; Rough Sike, RS; Trout Beck, TB) draining blanket peat underlain by glacial clay and limestone-rich sub-strata at Moor House (Northern England). Dissolved organic carbon concentration, [DOC], showed complex relationships with both discharge and calcium concentration, [Ca]. A model based on [Ca] was constructed to simulate stream [DOC] by mixing dissolved organic matter (DOM) from shallow peat, quantified by measured [DOC] (15–30 mg l−1) in peat porewater, with DOM assumed to be present at a constant concentration (c. 5 mg l−1) in groundwater. A temperature-based adjustment to the measured porewater [DOC] was required to account for relatively low streamwater [DOC] during winter and spring. The fitted model reproduced short-term variation in streamwater [DOC] satisfactorily, in particular variability in RS and TB due to groundwater contributions. Streamwater DOM is largely derived from surface peat, which accounts for more than 96% of the total DOC flux in both RS and TB, and 100% in CHS. Model outputs were combined with streamwater and porewater DO14C data to estimate the 14C contents, and thereby the ages, of DOM from peat and groundwater. The peat-derived DOM is 5 years old on average, with most of it very recently formed. The derived age of groundwater DOM (8,500 years) is comparable to the 4,000–7,000 years estimated from the DO14C of water extracts of clay underlying the peat, suggesting that the clay is the source of groundwater DOM.


Carbon isotopes Discharge Dissolved organic matter Groundwater Peat Stream