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Assessing acid rain and climate effects on the temporal variation of dissolved organic matter in the unsaturated zone of a karstic system from southern China

Acid rain has the potential to significantly impact the quantity and quality of dissolved organic matter (DOM) leached from soil to groundwater. Yet, to date, the effects of acid rain have not been investigated in karstic systems, which are expected to strongly buffer the pH of atmospheric rainfall. This study presents a nine-year DOM fluorescence dataset from a karst unsaturated zone collected from two drip sites (HS4, HS6) in Heshang Cave, southern China between 2005 and 2014. Cross-correlograms show that fluorescence intensity of both dripwaters lagged behind rainfall by ∼1 year (∼11 months lag for HS4, and ∼13 months for HS6), whereas drip rates responded quite quickly to rainfall (0 months lag for HS4, and ∼3 months for HS6), based on optimal correlation coefficients. The rapid response of drip rates to rainfall is related to the change of reservoir head pressure in summer, associated with higher rainfall. In winter, low rainfall has a limited effect on head pressure, and drip rates gradually slow to a constant value associated with base flow from the overlying reservoir- this effect being most evident on inter-annual timescales (R2 = 0.80 for HS4 and R2 = 0.86 for HS6, n = 9, p < 0.01). We ascribed the ∼1 year lag of fluorescence intensity to the effect of the soil moisture deficit and the karst process on delaying water and solute transport. After eliminating the one year lag, the congruent seasonal pacing and amplitude between fluorescence intensity and rainfall observed suggests that the seasonality of fluorescence intensity was mainly controlled by the monsoonal rains which can govern the output of DOM from the soil, as well as the residence time of water in the unsaturated zone. On inter-annual timescales, a robust linear relationship between fluorescence intensity and annual (effective) precipitation amount (R2 = 0.86 for HS4 and R2 = 0.77 for HS6, n = 9, p < 0.01) was identified, implying that annual (effective) precipitation is the main determinant of DOM concentration in the aquifer. Conversely, the insensitivity of fluorescence intensity and fluorescence wavelength maxima to variations in the pH of local rainfall suggests that acid rain over the study period (∼pH 5.6 to ∼ 4.5) had no discernable effect on the quantity and quality of DOM in karst soil and soil solution, likely being strongly buffered by soil carbonates. Therefore, despite large increases in anthropogenic acid rain in recent Chinese history, hydrologic forcing is the predominant factor driving variations in DOM in karst aquifers.
Journal Article
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Liao, J., Hu, C., Wang, M., Li, X., Ruan, J., Zhu, Y., … Hartland, A. (2018). Assessing acid rain and climate effects on the temporal variation of dissolved organic matter in the unsaturated zone of a karstic system from southern China. Journal of Hydrology, 556, 475–487. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2017.11.043
This is an author’s accepted version of an article published in the journal: Journal of Hydrology. © 2018 Elsevier.