Spectrophotometric properties of surface water dissolved organic matter in an afforested upland peat catchment

Andrew Baker, L Bolton, MD newson, RGM Spencer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

39 Citations (Scopus)


Many upland catchments in the UK have undergone afforestation; their characteristic waterlogged soils require extensive pre-plantation ground drainage to allow tree establishment. In peatland areas this can result in very highly coloured runoff and enhanced dissolved organic matter (DOM) export in rivers of naturally high concentrations. In 1966, the Coalburn Experimental Catchment, northern England, was established to investigate the impact of afforestation on an upland peat catchment. Here we report the variations in DOM spectrophotometric properties of streamflow in the catchment at canopy closure, especially with respect to potential carbon sources within the artificial drainage ditches. Drainage ditches are characterized by water that has higher absorption coefficients and which is more highly coloured than in the catchment tributaries. Ditched, afforested areas produce more highly-coloured runoff waters that are more fluorescent and absorbent normalized to carbon concentration compared to ditches in open moorland. Ditches that had been experimentally re-excavated have organic matter of different spectrophotometric character, with higher dissolved organic carbon concentration and less aromatic or lower molecular weight material. It is hypothesized that this is due to the exposure of bare peat faces within and adjacent to the ditches that are more susceptible to drying compared to vegetated areas. The large extent of this drainage network acts as both a rapid transport network increasing hydrological connectivity and a pool for the storage of DOM, which is of different spectrophotometric character under low flow conditions, depending on management conditions. Copyright (C) 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2325-2336
Number of pages12
JournalHydrological Processes
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008


  • spectrophotometry
  • peat
  • ditches
  • carbon export
  • afforestation


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