Influences of organic carbon speciation on hyporheic corridor biogeochemistry and microbial ecology

James C. Stegen, Tim Johnson, James K. Fredrickson, Michael J. Wilkins, Allan E. Konopka, William C. Nelson, Evan V. Arntzen, William B. Chrisler, Rosalie K. Chu, Sarah J. Fansler, Emily B. Graham, David W. Kennedy, Charles T. Resch, Malak Tfaily, John Zachara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


The hyporheic corridor (HC) encompasses the river-groundwater continuum, where the mixing of groundwater (GW) with river water (RW) in the HC can stimulate biogeochemical activity. Here we propose a novel thermodynamic mechanism underlying this phenomenon and reveal broader impacts on dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and microbial ecology. We show that thermodynamically favorable DOC accumulates in GW despite lower DOC concentration, and that RW contains thermodynamically less-favorable DOC, but at higher concentrations. This indicates that GW DOC is protected from microbial oxidation by low total energy within the DOC pool, whereas RW DOC is protected by lower thermodynamic favorability of carbon species. We propose that GW-RW mixing overcomes these protections and stimulates respiration. Mixing models coupled with geophysical and molecular analyses further reveal tipping points in spatiotemporal dynamics of DOC and indicate important hydrology-biochemistry-microbial feedbacks. Previously unrecognized thermodynamic mechanisms regulated by GW-RW mixing may therefore strongly influence biogeochemical and microbial dynamics in riverine ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number585
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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