Organic matter transformations are disconnected between surface water and the hyporheic zone

James C. Stegen, Sarah J. Fansler, Malak M. Tfaily, Vanessa A. Garayburu-Caruso, Amy E. Goldman, Robert E. Danczak, Rosalie K. Chu, Lupita Renteria, Jerry Tagestad, Jason Toyoda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biochemical transformations of organic matter (OM) are a primary driver of river corridor biogeochemistry, thereby modulating ecosystem processes at local to global scales. OM transformations are driven by diverse biotic and abiotic processes, but we lack knowledge of how the diversity of those processes varies across river corridors and across surface and subsurface components of river corridors. To fill this gap we quantified the number of putative biotic and abiotic transformations of organic molecules across diverse river corridors using ultra-high-resolution mass spectrometry. The number of unique transformations is used here as a proxy for the diversity of biochemical processes underlying observed profiles of organic molecules. For this, we use public data spanning the contiguous United States (ConUS) from the Worldwide Hydrobiogeochemical Observation Network for Dynamic River Systems (WHONDRS) consortium. Our results show that surface water OM had more biotic and abiotic transformations than OM from shallow hyporheic zone sediments (1-3 cm depth). We observed substantially more biotic than abiotic transformations, and the numbers of biotic and abiotic transformations were highly correlated with each other. We found no relationship between the number of transformations in surface water and sediments and no meaningful relationships with latitude, longitude, or climate. We also found that the composition of transformations in sediments was not linked with transformation composition in adjacent surface waters. We infer that OM transformations represented in surface water are an integrated signal of diverse processes occurring throughout the upstream catchment. In contrast, OM transformations in sediments likely reflect a narrower range of processes within the sampled volume. This indicates decoupling between the processes influencing surface water and sediment OM, despite the potential for hydrologic exchange to homogenize OM. We infer that the processes influencing OM transformations and the scales at which they operate diverge between surface water and sediments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3099-3110
Number of pages12
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jul 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


Dive into the research topics of 'Organic matter transformations are disconnected between surface water and the hyporheic zone'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this