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The Science of the total environment

Temporal trends in organic carbon content in the main Swiss rivers, 1974-2010.


PMID 25260166

Abstract

Increases in dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations have often been reported in rivers and lakes of the Northern Hemisphere over the last few decades. High-quality organic carbon (OC) concentration data have been used to study the change in DOC and total (TOC) organic carbon concentrations in the main rivers of Switzerland (Rhône, Rhine, Thur and Aar) between 1974 and 2010. These rivers are characterized by high discharge regimes (due to their Alpine origin) and by running in populated areas. Small long term trends (a general statistically significant decrease in TOC and a less clear increase in DOC concentrations), on the order of 1% of mean OC concentration per year, have been observed. An upward trend before 1999 reversed direction to a more marked downward trend from 1999 to 2010. Of the potential causes of OC temporal variation analysed (water temperature, dissolved reactive phosphorus and river discharge), only discharge explains a significant, albeit still small, part of TOC variability (8-31%), while accounting for barely 2.5% of DOC variability. Estimated anthropogenic TOC and DOC loads (treated sewage) to the rivers could account for a maximum of 4-20% of the temporal trends. Such low predictability is a good example of the limitations faced when studying causality and drivers behind small variations in complex systems. River export of OC from Switzerland has decreased significantly over the period. Since about 5.5% of estimated NEP of Switzerland is exported by the rivers, riverine OC fluxes should be taken into account in a detailed carbon budget of the country.

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