Two adjacent catchments in the Otway Ranges of Victoria, Australia (Redwater and Clearwater) produce water with markedly different concentrations of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) during summer. Water from Redwater Creek had a DOC concentration of 32 mg L−1, while water from Clearwater Creek had a DOC concentration of 3.8 mg L−1. Examination of the catchments revealed that while climate, topography, vegetation and land use were similar, the soils were different. The objective of this study was to examine the relationship between the concentration and chemical composition of DOC in stream waters and the nature of soils in the two catchments. Soil mapping determined that clayey soils formed on Cretaceous sediments (Cretaceous soils) occurred throughout both catchments, but that Redwater Catchment also contained a large area (39%) of sandy soils formed on Tertiary sediments (Tertiary soils). The concentration of DOC in forest floor leachate was high in both the Tertiary and Cretaceous areas; however, the concentration of DOC in water draining areas dominated by Tertiary soils was greater than that in water draining areas dominated by Cretaceous soils. Laboratory experiments showed that the Cretaceous soils had higher adsorption capacities for forest floor leachate DOC than the Tertiary soils. The difference in DOC concentrations of the streams was therefore attributed to the difference in adsorption capacity of catchment soils for DOC. Adsorption capacities of the soils were found to be a function of their clay contents and specific surface areas.
Solid-state3C nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and pyrolysis-mass spectrometry were used to determine the chemical structure of DOC found in streams and forest floor leachate samples and that remaining in solution after interaction with soil. Chemistry of DOC in forest floor leachate was similar before and after interaction with soil, indicating no preferential adsorption of a particular type of carbon. Thus, differences between the chemical structure of stream DOC and forest floor leachate DOC could be attributed to microbial modifications during its movement through soils and into the streams, rather than losses by adsorption.