Coupled Biotic-Abiotic Processes Control Biogeochemical Cycling of Dissolved Organic Matter in the Columbia River Hyporheic Zone

Jane D. Fudyma, Rosalie K. Chu, Nathalia Graf Grachet, James C. Stegen, Malak M. Tfaily

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


A critical component of assessing the impacts of climate change on watershed ecosystems involves understanding the role that dissolved organic matter (DOM) plays in driving whole ecosystem metabolism. The hyporheic zone—a biogeochemical control point where ground water and river water mix—is characterized by high DOM turnover and microbial activity and is responsible for a large fraction of lotic respiration. Yet, the dynamic nature of this ecotone provides a challenging but important environment to parse out different DOM influences on watershed function and net carbon and nutrient fluxes. We used high-resolution Fourier-transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry to provide a detailed molecular characterization of DOM and its transformation pathways in the Columbia river watershed. Samples were collected from ground water (adjacent unconfined aquifer underlying the Hanford 300 Area), Columbia river water, and its hyporheic zone. The hyporheic zone was sampled at five locations to capture spatial heterogeneity within the hyporheic zone. Our results revealed that abiotic transformation pathways (e.g., carboxylation), potentially driven by abiotic factors such as sunlight, in both the ground water and river water are likely influencing DOM availability to the hyporheic zone, which could then be coupled with biotic processes for enhanced microbial activity. The ground water profile revealed high rates of N and S transformations via abiotic reactions. The river profile showed enhanced abiotic photodegradation of lignin-like molecules that subsequently entered the hyporheic zone as low molecular weight, more degraded compounds. While the compounds in river water were in part bio-unavailable, some were further shown to increase rates of microbial respiration. Together, river water and ground water enhance microbial activity within the hyporheic zone, regardless of river stage, as shown by elevated putative amino-acid transformations and the abundance of amino-sugar and protein-like compounds. This enhanced microbial activity is further dependent on the composition of ground water and river water inputs. Our results further suggest that abiotic controls on DOM should be incorporated into predictive modeling for understanding watershed dynamics, especially as climate variability and land use could affect light exposure and changes to ground water essential elements, both shown to impact the Columbia river hyporheic zone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number574692
JournalFrontiers in Water
StatePublished - Jan 18 2021


  • biogeochemical cycling
  • dissolved organic matter
  • ground water
  • hyporheic zone
  • river water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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